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Increasing ambulance waiting times are endangering patient safety

14:36, 13/5/2022

Home » News & Knowledge » Increasing ambulance waiting times are endangering patient safety

The BBC has recently reported that patients are suffering serious safety impacts due to increasing ambulance waiting times.


Analysis has found that there has been a 77% rise in the most serious safety incidents logged by paramedics in England’s over the past year compared to before the pandemic. These reports are produced where the incident may have potentially led to long term harm or death.

When ambulances are called upon patients are triaged and categorized in order of priority, This then produces a target response time for the ambulance to arrive.


Increasing ambulance waiting times


NHS emergency call categories and ambulance response time targets:

Category Example injuries/illness Response target
Category 1: Life-threatening Cardiac arrest
Severe allergic reaction
7 minutes on average, and 90% of calls in 15 minutes
Category 2: Emergency Stroke
Severe burns
18 minutes on average, and 90% of calls in 40 minutes
Category 3: Urgent Late stages of labour
Non-severe burns
90% of calls in 120 minutes
Category 4: Non-urgent Diarrhoea
90% of calls in 180 minutes


The number of serious incidents had risen from 324 in 2020/2021 to 551 in 2021/2022.

All 10 of England’s major trusts have raised their internal alert level to a point where they are under severe or extreme pressure. Data suggests ambulance response times are at their highest since the current target system was introduced.

Its believed that the additional pressure is as a result of Covid absences but also the problems ambulance crews face when they arrive with patients at A&E’s. Hospitals are also under additional strain and so when new patients arrive they are delayed in being admitted which leaves hem waiting outside in ambulances that could be sent to new incidents.

In April crews responding to “life threatening” calls were responding on average in 9 minutes and two seconds, above the 7 minute target.

Category two emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes which are targeted to arrive within 18 minutes were in fact arriving nearer to 51 minutes after calls were made.

Incidents of lower category calls waiting for many hours are increasingly on the rise and this only adds to the distress an potential harm to patients.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which represents services across the whole UK, says handover delays cut the number of hours crews could operate by “up to one-third” in some areas in March.

“The potential harm… could be impacting thousands of patients every month, with obvious knock-on effects on the morale and wellbeing of staff,” managing director Martin Flaherty said.

“Every possible effort is being made to prioritize those patients whose conditions are most serious.”


Further reading

Medical Negligence – Oakwood Solicitors



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