Stacking: Ambulance crews had to wait for 30 minutes or more on 2,655 occasions last month (Picture: Getty)
The number of ambulances stacking outside A&E departments in London has more than quadrupled in two years, the Evening Standard can reveal, in the latest sign of the soaring demands being placed on the NHS.
Ambulance crews had to wait for 30 minutes or more on 2,655 occasions last month before they were able to unload patients into the care of hospitals, according to new figures.
Between November 3 and December 7, this happened on 764 occasions at the London North West Healthcare trust, which runs Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals and has repeatedly had the worst A&E delays in the country.
Ambulances at King’s College hospital, in Denmark Hill, and its sister hospital Princess Royal, in Orpington, suffered 30-minute handover delays on 456 occasions.
Delayed handovers leave crews unable to respond to other emergencies at a time the London Ambulance Service is reaching less than 50 per cent of critically ill patients in some boroughs within the eight-minute NHS target.
By comparison, there were 644 ambulance 30-minute waits in London during the same period in 2012 and 1,079 last year.
Dr Onkar Sahota, Labour chairman of the London Assembly health committee, who unearthed the figures, said: "While ambulance and A&E staff are doing all they can to minimise delays, the strain being placed on London’s NHS is plain to see.
“The Government... needs to realise that without real and sustainable support for the ambulance service, it is London’s patients who will continue to suffer.”
Tina Benson, director of operations at London North West Healthcare trust, said there was no evidence that patient safety had been compromised as a result of the delays.
She said a task-force had been established to improve A&E performance at Northwick Park. "We are looking at ambulance hand-over times and waiting times every week," she said.
King’s, one of the biggest hospitals in London, said that December 1 was the busiest day for emergencies in its history, with 488 patients attending A&E.
King's said that, like other London hospitals, it had seen a sudden 25 per cent spike in paediatric emergencies month on month, with many babies suffering from the respiratory infections bronchiolitis and croup.
Roland Sinker, chief operating officer at King’s, warned that South-East London may have to follow North-West London in seeking to provide more care in the community or at home to discourage patients from seeking treatment in hospital.
He said: “I think there is going to have to be a rethink about the way capacity is reconfigured across London to be able to cope with the challenges.”
Richard Hunt, chairman of the London Ambulance Service, said the way to ease the crisis was for paramedics to treat more patients over the phone or at the scene rather than conveying them to hospital.
He said less than 10 per cent of patients who received an ambulance in eight minutes were unwell enough to merit such a fast response.
Speaking in his national role as chairman of the Association of Ambulance Service Chief Executives, he said: "Many 999 calls which require double-crewed vehicles, I believe could - and increasingly should - be managed at the scene, avoiding conveyance."
Ambulances waiting 30 minutes or more outside A&E departments, November 3 to December 7 2014
London North West Healthcare NHS Trust
King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Barking, Havering And Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust
The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Trust
West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
Barts Health NHS Trust
Epsom And St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust
North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
Chelsea And Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Source: London Assembly Labour group research
Published: 18 December 2014 Evening Standard
Updated: 09:26, 18 December 2014