Ambulance waiting times in England three times longer in some rural areas

Disparity between rural and urban areas uncovered by Lib Dem FoI requests to 10 ambulance trusts

Patients in some rural areas wait almost three times longer for emergency ambulances than those in towns and cities, while people with potential heart attacks or strokes now face a one hour 40-minute average wait in one area, statistics have shown.

The disparities were uncovered by freedom of information requests by the Liberal Democrats to England’s 10 ambulance trusts, which in turn covered waiting times for 227 areas across the country.

For category one calls, the most urgent, where an ambulance is meant to arrive within seven minutes, several areas reported waiting times close to or more than 15 minutes.

The longest average wait for such calls was in Mid Devon, with a time of 15 minutes 20 seconds, almost three times as long as the average of 5 minutes and 48 seconds in Hammersmith, west London.

Overall, 83% of the areas across England missed the seven-minute target for category one calls.

For category two ambulance calls, which are less serious but still cover the likes of suspected strokes and heart attacks, while the target is 18 minutes, in 22 areas people waited an hour or more on average.

The longest average wait was in Cornwall, at just over one hour 41 minutes. Two years ago, the equivalent figure was 32 minutes. In 32 areas, average waits for category two calls have doubled or more over this period.

Only two of the 220-plus areas for which there was information managed to get below the target of 18 minutes on average – Croydon in south London, and one district of Carlisle.

A separate analysis by BBC News, also published on Thursday, found that more than 10,000 ambulances a week wait at least an hour in England outside A&E units, the highest such figure since data was first collected in 2010.

One family told the BBC that in Cornwall, an 85-year-old woman had to wait 40 hours to be admitted to hospital with a broken hip, including an “agonising” 14 hours for the ambulance.

Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dems’ health spokesperson, said: “This stark postcode lottery means that if you suffer a heart attack or stroke, your chances of getting to hospital on time depend on where you happen to live.

“Ministers must bring forward extra support to get ambulance services through winter as well as a long-term strategy to ensure people can get emergency care when they need it. That means addressing workforce shortages, fixing the social care crisis and ending the shortage of hospital beds, all of which are leaving patients in ambulances stuck outside A&E for hours.”

NHS data released last week showed ambulance crews could not respond to almost one in four 999 calls last month because so many were waiting to hand patients over.

An estimated 5,000 patients in England potentially suffered “severe harm” through waiting so long either to be admitted to A&E or just to get an ambulance to turn up to help them.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures the NHS is under and are taking urgent action to support the ambulance service and staff so they can deliver high quality care to patients.”

This included an additional £500m for freeing up hospital beds, the spokesperson said, pointing also to £3.3bn per year for the next two years announced in this month’s autumn statement.=

Contributor

Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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