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.=


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ambulance staff could coordinate strikes with other NHS workers
Tens of thousands of workers in England to take industrial action in run-up to Christmas in row over pay

Aletha Adu Political correspondent

30, Nov, 2022 @10:53 AM

Article image
Dangerous NHS England hospital roofs ‘will not be fixed until 2035’
FoI request reveals long wait to repair roofs at risk of collapse, including those affecting Truss and Coffey constituents

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

28, Sep, 2022 @6:18 PM

Article image
‘A horrible winter lies ahead’: next PM will inherit an NHS on its knees
Experts say Tory leadership rivals appear not to have grasped the scale of the crisis facing the service

Andrew Gregory Health editor

29, Aug, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Number of people in England on NHS waiting list hits record high
NHS England says 6.1 million people were waiting for hospital treatment at end of December 2021

Denis Campbell and Pamela Duncan

10, Feb, 2022 @10:20 AM

Article image
Cost of eradicating NHS repairs backlog hits £10bn for first time
NHS in England would need to spend £10.2bn to bring rundown buildings and kit up to standard, figures show

Michael Goodier and Denis Campbell

13, Oct, 2022 @3:04 PM

Article image
Just 10% of Britons think ministers have right policies on NHS, study shows
Ipsos poll also shows strong public support for founding principles of universal healthcare based on taxation

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

23, Feb, 2023 @12:01 AM

Article image
NHS England waiting list reaches record high for second straight month
Experts warn 5.3m backlog could exacerbate burnout with staff facing ‘unprecedented levels of exhaustion’

Rachel Hall and Pamela Duncan

08, Jul, 2021 @3:15 PM

Article image
Ministers admit 34 hospital buildings in England have roofs that could collapse
Exclusive: Renewed fears ceilings at affected hospitals could suddenly collapse, injuring staff and patients

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

14, Aug, 2022 @12:51 PM

Article image
Paramedics are ‘leaving in droves’ as ambulance callouts almost double
Frontline NHS workers are under pressure as the number of emergency calls in England rises 10 times faster than the number of staff

Michael Savage Policy Editor

12, Jun, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ambulance strike: NHS leaders urge public to avoid risky activity
Bodies representing NHS care in England also call for Rishi Sunak intervention but PM refuses to budge on pay

Denis Campbell, Steven Morris and Dan Sabbagh

21, Dec, 2022 @12:05 AM