“Patients will almost certainly die”

Ambulance crews and emergency services across England are struggling to cope with extreme pressure as the pandemic continues to weigh on the country’s health sector.

Data disclosed to The Independent last week showed that some patients had to wait for hours for an ambulance, even when suffering from serious and urgent conditions like strokes.

While response times vary across the country, the newspaper reported that in the Midlands, for example, the average response time for “category two” calls – which can include suspected heart attacks – ranged from 1, 5 to 2 hours, against a target of 40 minutes. .

Two weeks ago in the South West, the average performance for these types of calls was over 1 hour and 25 minutes, according to data viewed by the industry outlet HSJ.

Meanwhile, in emergency departments, large numbers of patients have been waiting for unbelievably long times for a bed after doctors decide to admit them. Some 16,000 waits longer than 12 hours were recorded in February, five times the pre-pandemic record, according to the publication.

NHS leaders fear the sustained strain on ambulance and emergency services is already causing serious harm to patients. The Association of Ambulance Contractors believe around 3,000 patients may have suffered ‘serious harm’ from ambulance delays in February alone.

An ambulance service manager said The Independent that performance against national targets has deteriorated significantly over the past six months. They said: “The hours lost have almost doubled and the rate of decline is now exponential. So if we’re not careful we won’t make it through the summer, let alone next winter. As long as the transfer delays get worse, we won’t get to the patients in time, and the patients will almost certainly die.

Earlier this month a major ambulance trust temporarily declared a ‘critical incident’ due to extreme pressure. The South Central Ambulance Service, which serves a population of around 7 million people in the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, as well as Sussex and Surrey, where it provides non-emergency transport, has declared the incident in the early hours of April 6. .

Many bottlenecks slow down the flow of patients in hospitals and in the community. For example, experts pointed to a lack of social care capacity slowing discharges, leading to long waits outside hospitals for beds.

Covid-19 cases, which remain high in England, are exacerbating patient flow problems by increasing demand for services while reducing the ability to provide them. Covid-19 absences continue to reduce the available NHS workforce, while the reorganization of wards to prevent transmission between patients tends to put pressure on bed availability.

New cases appear to be falling after an estimated peak of nearly 350,000 per day in late March. About 50,000 people reported testing positive that day.

But with hospitalizations and deaths typically a few weeks behind those numbers, it’s unclear when the pressure on NHS services will ease.

With the most recent surge occurring just months after the initial winter peak caused by Omicron, the pressure is unlikely to be over for hospital and ambulance teams. And for those who need non-emergency care, it could be years before their health care experience returns to a pre-pandemic “normal.”

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