Margaret Greenwood MP has spoken out in Parliament about long waiting times for ambulances across England.
The Wirral West MP has raised the issue twice in Parliament in the last two weeks – she spoke last week in a debate in Westminster Hall and again this week during an Urgent Question in the House of Commons.
One senior ambulance leader in the north who asked not to be named said this week that the situation is “dire for staff and patients”, while some ambulance trusts have declared their current situation as “critical incidents”.
Margaret Greenwood said the problems are partly due to COVID-19 and the extreme heat, but also pointed to problems across the NHS including staffing shortages in hospitals which is making it more challenging to transfer patients to hospital beds in a timely manner.
There are four categories for the severity of ambulance calls.
Category 1 is the most urgent type and is classed as an immediate response to a life-threatening condition, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest. The average response time should be under 7 minutes.
Category 2 is the second most urgent type and is classed as a serious condition, such as stroke or chest pain, which may require rapid assessment and/or urgent transport. The average response time should be under 18 minutes.
Recent figures show that, in June of this year, the average waiting time across England for an ambulance for a category 1 call was nine minutes and six seconds. In the North West, it was eight minutes and 12 seconds – better than the national average, but still more than a minute over the average response time target.
In the same month, the average waiting time across England for an ambulance for a category 2 call was 51 minutes and 38 seconds. In the North West, it was 39 minutes and 46 seconds – again, better than the national average, but still well over the target.
Margaret Greenwood pointed out that these targets were already being missed before the pandemic and that the problems we are seeing now “have been a long time in the making.”
Margaret Greenwood MP said, “It is a matter of extreme concern that waiting times for ambulances are so poor right across England.
“There are also long waits in A&E departments across the country. In June of this year, almost half of patients had to wait more than four hours at A&E in Arrowe Park Hospital.
“We all want to be confident that a well-resourced ambulance service is there should we need it, along with a properly staffed and resourced A&E department.
“Ambulance services and A&E services are under immense pressure, partly due to Covid-19 and the current heatwave, but also because of staff shortages in the NHS.
“A&E departments are under great pressure, there are shortages in hospitals, making it more challenging to transfer patients to hospital beds in a timely manner, and people who are struggling to get GP appointments are going to A&E out of frustration.
“Of course, that all impacts on patients, sometimes with devastating consequences for them and their families.
“It also means that NHS staff are having to work under high levels of stress.
“Dr Katherine Henderson, the President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said recently that this is the height of summer and yet we are seeing a state of affairs that we’d be dismayed by even in the depths of winter.
“It is the first duty of the government to keep its citizens safe.
“The government needs to get a grip of the situation as a matter of urgency.”