January 16, 2023 9.46 am This story is over 10 months old

Heart attack and stroke patients waited more than two hours for ambulances in December

The trust has apologised for delays

The ambulance service which covers Greater Lincolnshire took on average over two hours in December to respond to Category 2 incidents, which include possible heart attacks and strokes.

Category 2 incidents are the second most serious category of incident, cover emergency calls including for stroke patients, and are meant to be responded to in an average time of 18 minutes. East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has not hit that target since Summer 2021 but December saw response time figures deteriorate further.

It took on average two hours and six minutes for EMAS to respond to Category 2 incidents in December, double the average response time in November when it was 57 minutes, 47 seconds.

There was high demand for its service and a record number of EMAS hours, almost 27,000, lost due to handover delays last month too. EMAS’s director of operations has apologised for the longer waits patients have experienced and asked people to only call 999 if a life is at threat.

Category 1 incidents, life-threatening injuries and illnesses, have a target time for average response within seven minutes and 90% of such incidents in 13 minutes. In December, EMAS took 10 minutes, 54 seconds on average to respond to these and 90% of Category 1 incidents were responded to within 19 minutes and 59 seconds. It has not met either of the targets since Spring 2021.

Ambulance services are also set the target of getting to nine in ten of Category 2 incidents within 40 minutes. This was last achieved by EMAS in July 2021 and last month 90% of incidents were only responded to within five hours and 23 minutes.

There were 11,595 Category 1 call-outs, a rise of 25%, or 2,916, just on November alone. The number of Category 2 incident call-outs for EMAS in December was unprecedented at 77,851, more than double the number of Category 2 incidents in the previous month.

EMAS received 20,000 more calls in December 2022 compared to December 2021. It lost a record 27,541 hours to hospital handover delays last month. This is the equivalent to 74 ambulance staff members coming to work but being detained at hospital for their full 12 hour shift, caring for patients on the back of ambulances, or in hospital corridors.

Ben Holdaway, director of operations at East Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “We are very sorry that due to a number of factors, patients in our communities are waiting longer than we would like for an ambulance response.

“We continue to experience immense pressure on our ambulance service and our staff are working phenomenally hard to get to the sickest and most severely injured patients. Our colleagues in our 999 control rooms work tirelessly to assess and reassess the condition of our patients who are waiting for an ambulance, to ensure that people who need medical attention most urgently receive the first available ambulance.

“We urge the public to play their part by only calling 999 if life is at threat, and to use alternative services such as 111 online, GP, pharmacies or urgent treatment centres for other concerns. This allows us to respond to patients who need our ambulances with highly-skilled clinicians and life-saving equipment on board.”

At Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust’s board of governors’ meeting on Wednesday, January 11, a senior trust figure said the “poor flow” of patients from A&E into hospital wards had impacted ambulance handover times. The biggest problem causing the poor flow was not discharge difficulties with medically fit patients, but rather the acuity of patients in hospitals, requiring longer treatment there.

Ambulance services across England struggled to meet response time targets in December. In England, it took on average more than an hour and half for Category 2 emergency calls to be responded to.