Local ambulance service misses key response targets

Latest response time data has been released for EMAS and Leicester hospitalsLatest response time data has been released for EMAS and Leicester hospitals
Latest response time data has been released for EMAS and Leicester hospitals
New figures show the local ambulance service and Leicester hospitals are failing to meet key performance targets.

East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) was the second worst trust in the country for its response times to the most urgent calls.

Ambulance trusts have a seven minute target for reaching Category One patients. These are people who are facing a serious threat to their life.

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The service had an average time of nine minutes and 13 seconds last month. This put it 10th out of 11 trusts for this type of call.

The gap between targets and actual response times then dramatically lengthened for Category Two and Three calls.

Category Two calls are those people classed as having a serious condition which needs rapid attention and transport, while Category Three patients are classed as having an urgent problem which needs treatment and transport.

The former has an expected response time of 18 minutes. EMAS attended these patients in an average of 43 minutes and six seconds. For the latter, patients should be reached in two hours. On average, they were left waiting an hour longer than they should have been.

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The service did hit target for Category Four calls, which are classed as non-urgent problems, however.

These are the least urgent calls and should be responded to within three hours. The service had an average response of two hours and 44 minutes, data shows.

EMAS said reducing the delays is not entirely in its own hands, adding it continues to ‘lose a large number of hours to patient handover delays’. The service claimed 13,801 hours were lost as crews sat outside Leicester hospitals last month.

However, it added it is taking steps to help ease the pressures, including staff recruitment and triaging patients over the phone to ensure ambulance crews are only going where they are needed and guiding patients to other services where appropriate.

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EMAS said it has welcomed more than 422 new frontline staff between April 2023 to March 2024.

Russell Smalley, head of operations for Leicestershire at EMAS, said: “We continue to lose a large number of hours to patient handover delays, with 13,801 hours lost across the East Midlands in March, equivalent to over 1,000 12-hour shifts.

"Handover delays are not an ambulance and hospital only issue; they are a symptom of wider pressures across the NHS and social care systems.

“Our priority is the safe, quality care of our patients. We continue to work with partners to reduce the negative impact of delays on patients and our staff.

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“We ask the public to use NHS services wisely. 999 should be used for life-threatening emergencies.

"If not, use alternative services, including NHS 111, pharmacies, GPs or urgent treatment centres.”

The data also paints a stark picture for Leicester’s hospitals.

The University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) not only failed to meet targets for patient waits at A&E in March and elective treatment and cancer care waits in February – the most recent data available – it was also below the national average in all three areas.

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NHS England says 76 per cent of patients in the emergency department should be seen within four hours. At Leicester hospitals, only 58.4 per cent of people were seen within that time frame last month and almost 1,000 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted.

The average of all trusts in England is 74.2 per cent. UHL ranked 178th out of 184 trusts in this category.

There were 109,272 people on waiting lists at UHL for elective – non-urgent – care in February.

Of these, 47,147 had been waiting longer than the 18-week target, a slight drop on the 48,591 waiting that long in January.

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This means still just 56.9 per cent were treated in less than that length of time in February. The NHS target is 92 per cent and the national average is 62.1 per cent.

Yet, the trust has made significant progress on the longest waits for care. In January, 4,285 people on the waiting list had been on it for more than a year. In February, that had dropped to 3,070 people.

Cancer patients should be starting treatment within a month of diagnosis with NHS England expecting a compliance rate of 96 per cent. UHL started treatment for 83.3 per cent of patients within that timescale. The average across England is 91.1 per cent. Leicester hospitals ranked 127th out of 137 trusts.

UHL’s deputy chief operating officer, Siobhan Favier, said: “A monthly data snapshot highlights the challenges we still face in several key areas – particularly following the difficult winter months.

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"It has been an extremely difficult time for the NHS; with industrial action, increasing pressure urgent and emergency care and a large post-Covid waiting list all putting UHL under significant pressure.

“However, despite this, we have made significant improvements in elective care over 2023. We have dramatically reduced the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment and reduced overall waiting lists by 16 per cent.

“We achieved a 60 per cent reduction in patients waiting over 62-days for cancer care and have achieved the Faster Diagnosis Standard for cancer since September 2023. We have also seen an 85 per cent reduction in ambulance handover times and improvements in monthly four-hour wait targets.

“Our teams are working extremely hard and should be proud of the progress so far. However, we are still not where we want to be, with more work to do to ensure timely care for patients. Alongside our partners, we are committed to achieving further improvements in 2024.”