Paramedics are waiting with patients in hospital corridors outside A&E departments because there are not enough nursing staff and beds to cope, a top ambulance service boss has said.
Steve Wheaton, Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer at West Midlands Ambulance Service, says if the problem carries on 999 calls “will go unanswered”.
“Our paramedics are ending up doing nurses’ jobs, while our response times are going down the pan,” he said.
“Somebody is going to have a serious ‘off’ in the street, and we aren’t going to be there.”
He said the problem was the equivalent of having eight ambulance crews “sitting around doing nothing but nursing patients in hospital corridors”.
The issue “is not unprecedented” and has been getting “progressively worse” for the last few years, according to Mr Wheaton.
He also believes “this is a national problem” gripping hospitals and ambulance trusts across the UK.
In one case this week, he said the trust’s paramedics stayed with a patient for six hours at a hospital in Dudley, West Midlands, while elsewhere 23 out of 26 ambulances were queued up at a Warwickshire hospital waiting to hand over patients to nurses.
Earlier this month there was “no cover across Coventry and Warwickshire for 15 minutes” because crews were waiting to hand over.
In another case an ambulance crew covering Staffordshire was sent to attend a 999 call over an hour-and-a-half’s drive away.
The ambulance service must achieve a turnaround, where the patient is handed over to the hospital’s A&E staff, within 30 minutes to hit national standards.
Mr Wheaton also said the trust had been meeting its response targets to get to 75% of calls within eight minutes and had “the best performing call-answering of any ambulance trust, nationally”.
But he said this was only due in part to a decision not to scrap 80 older ambulances and to hire 60 extra paramedics.
The trust has also been paying increased overtime to its crews, who are handling up to 47,000 turnarounds a month.
However, despite this Mr Wheaton said the trust was now on course to miss its response target for the first time in 18 months.
“It’s not about meeting government targets, we just want to avoid a case like we had recently where I had an old lady with a fractured finger waiting over an hour because I had ambulances sat outside a hospital, waiting with patients,” he said.
Solving the problem would mean “parallel” investment in acute hospitals and bigger A&E departments, a wider range of out-of-hours provision, and funding for social care.
“Eventually you could invest less in the ambulance services and A&E departments, but not until you’ve sorted out the problems now,” said Mr Wheaton.
His comments come on the day the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham announced it was reopening two wards at its old neighbouring hospital site to meet what the health trust’s boss called “unprecedented demand across the region”.
Dame Julie Moore, Chief Executive of the University Hospitals Birmingham Trust, said: “The region has seen a 10% increase in A&E attendances in the first quarter of the year”, with the Birmingham Hospital bearing the brunt of that increase.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Staffing levels should always be sufficient to ensure patients are safe.
“There are now more clinical staff in the NHS than in 2010, including around 5,500 more doctors, 1,300 more midwives and more than 900 more health visitors.
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“Ultimately hospitals are best-placed to decide how many nurses are needed to care for patients.”