Ambulance to A&E transfers: New data reveals the worst region in England for handover times

Patients in the South West of England are having to wait nearly three and a half times longer to get out of ambulances and into A&E compared to the national average.

Analysis of NHS data by Sky News has found in the week ending 1 January 2023, it took an average of two hours and 39 minutes to hand over patients to hospitals in the region, compared to 46 minutes nationally.

The target in England is 15 minutes.

Figures also show the six NHS Hospital Trusts with the longest handover times in England are all in the South West.

They are: University Hospitals Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, Great Western Hospitals, Royal Cornwall Hospitals, North Bristol and Gloucestershire Hospitals.

So bad is the problem, that hospitals in the region have begun discharging patients who are well enough into local hotels, usually used by tourists, in a bid to free up bed space.

Sky News also found 55% of ambulances in the South West had handover delays of more than an hour, twice as bad as the England average of 26%.

An older population, spread more remotely, is part of the reason, but NHS England told Sky News that staff recruitment and illness, the number of sick patients and delays in discharging patients from hospital are all causes.

In Helston in Cornwall, 85-year-old Koulla Mechamikos is recovering from a broken hip.

She fell in her hallway last August - and had to wait 14 hours for an ambulance to arrive - and then another 26 hours in the back of an ambulance outside the Royal Cornwall Hospital.

'I would have been better to die'

"They said we are just waiting for an ambulance to free up to come to you - we don't know how long it's going to be as we are so busy," said Koulla's daughter, Marianna Flint.

"It was a bit panicky because with that length of time, mum was then getting to a point of looking quite pale and was in a great amount of pain," she added.

While she praised the care the paramedics and hospital staff gave her mother, having to wait in the back of an ambulance for more than an entire day was worrying.

"Basically the ambulances are now waiting rooms - because there's no room in the hospital to take them - there's no extra wing, there's no bed space."

Koulla told Sky News she remembers being "freezing" while on the floor. "It was scary, more scary than anything. I lost my mind completely. I would have been better [to] die…so many hours."

The Royal Cornwall Hospital offered its "sincere" apologies to Koulla and Marianna.

If you are an NHS worker and would like to share your experiences with us anonymously, please email NHSstories@sky.uk

Anne-Marie Perry is CEO of AbiCare, a company that has run so-called 'Care Hotels' since the COVID outbreak.

"One of the blockages coming out of hospital is community care provision, social care," she said.

"So, if there's no provision in the community, you can't get people home, if you can't get people home, they stay in hospital. If they stay in hospital, there's a whole host of challenges associated to that hospital acquired dependency."

Read more:
Two health workers open up about the daily 'firefight', patients lying on floors and 24-hour waits for admission

She told Sky News the care offered can be cheaper than hospital beds.

"These are people that are deemed medically fit to get out of hospital to go home, but they can't go home because there isn't a package of care to wrap around them.

"We offer rehabilitation, we offer exercise classes, we offer social activity as well. So we're a great interim."

What the NHS had to say

Responding to the situation in the South West, a spokesperson for NHS England South West said: "There are multiple interdependent reasons for ambulance handover delays including the number of sick patients being seen at hospital, staffing recruitment and staff sickness, as well as delays with discharging patients when they are well enough.

"We are working hard with integrated care boards, hospital trusts and our ambulance service to address these delays and ensure patients are handed over at hospitals in a timely way, to ensure ambulance crews can get back on the road to help other patients as quickly as possible."