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Hospitals still too slow at taking patients from crews, ambulance trust winter plan says

PUBLISHED: 17:08 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:25 27 September 2018

A line of ambulances waiting outside the A&E Department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

A line of ambulances waiting outside the A&E Department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

Hospitals are still too slow at taking patients off the hands of ambulance crews, it has been revealed, as plans to avoid another winter healthcare crisis were put to health bosses.

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYAmbulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Papers released ahead of the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) board of directors meeting today outlined how the service had prepared for winter.

Last year, the NHS saw what was described as its worst winter ever. In Norfolk ambulances were queued outside hospitals as there were no beds for patients to be transferred to.

Crews are meant to be able to hand patients over to the hospital within 15 minutes, but delays last year were described as “overwhelming”.

It means that while crews must stay with patients they cannot get back out on the road, meaning patients who have calls 999 wait longer.

Two of the county’s hospitals, the Norfolk and Norwich (NNUH) and the Queen Elizabeth (QEH), were flagged up as the biggest risks of excessive handover delays again this year.

The board papers said: “Whilst there has been some improvement from the winter, there remain delays across the board above the 15 minute standards, which are exaggerated at times of demand pressure and can vary in where they occur.”

Last month alone crews waited an 1,076 hours more than they should have, the equivalent of 44 days, to hand over patients at the NNUH.

At the QEH, in King’s Lynn, 579 extra hours were wasted. While at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, crews waited an extra 131 hours.

The NNUH and QEH had the highest waits in the six counties EEAST covers.

This was despite the NNUH being the first to sign up to an immediate handover policy after a summit looked into EEAST’s winter performance.

Mark Davies, chief executive of NNUH, said: “We have been planning for winter for many months and we are working hard on a number of projects to increase capacity and improve patient experience.

“We have introduced a dedicated winter team who will be working closely with the ambulance service and NHS partners. We plan to further increase capacity in our emergency department this winter with an extra eight spaces to ensure patients arriving by ambulance are assessed more quickly.

“Work has already begun on increasing capacity with an extra 42 beds in the hospital and to create a discharge suite to improve patient flow. We will also be extending the opening hours of our older people’s emergency department, which has received really good feedback from patients and families since it opened in December.

“A hospital at home pilot will also be launched this winter. Up to 30 patients, if appropriate, will remain under the care of the hospital and be supported at home with bespoke care services such as therapy, nursing care, personal care, wound dressings and IV antibiotics.”

The QEH was contacted for comment.

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