Ambulance crews are facing long delays stuck outside hospitals in Wales waiting for patients to be admitted, a new report has found.
The delays were having a detrimental impact upon the NHS’s ability to care for patients as handovers were often taking over an hour.
A Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) report looked at patient delays between April 2020 and March 2021 at the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust.
Ambulance crews had to wait more than an hour to transfer a patient on 32,699 occasions – with about half of the patients being aged over 65.
Health Boards are responsible for improving ambulance patient handover times and we expect to see them deliver improvement in this area
Welsh Government spokeswoman
The report found this was a concern because “many older adults can be considered more vulnerable and at risk of unnecessary harm due to frailty and pre-existing health conditions”.
Patient handover delays were often a consequence of a bottleneck within A&E departments due to problems transferring patients to wards because of a lack of beds.
The report recommended that the Welsh Government and health boards consider taking action to improve patient flow within hospitals and the social care sector.
The watchdog also received more than 130 responses to a public survey, which revealed half waited under an hour in the community for an ambulance to arrive, with most waiting less than 30 minutes.
However, 26% of respondents waited between one and four hours, and 22% waited over four hours.
For those who waited over four hours, each commented that they felt their health condition deteriorated over this time.
Ambulance service staff were also surveyed and they said they sometimes attended hospitals in England where handover delays “are less frequent”.
Alun Jones, interim chief executive of Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, said: “There is significant collaborative work needed to resolve the issue of prolonged handover delays which are a symptom of wider patient flow issues throughout the NHS in Wales.
“It is my expectation that the recommendations that fall from this review are taken forward alongside, and in the context of, other work in this area to achieve the required improvement.”
Conservative shadow health minister, Russell George, said: “There is an emergency in Wales’ ambulance service and until the Cardiff Bay Government acknowledge that, then nothing will change.
“That there are significant concerns about patient safety is particularly worrying, not just for patients themselves and their families but, because of the toll that is taking on ambulance workers who feel helpless in their roles.
“But it goes beyond the ambulance service who are the casualties in overrun hospitals and A&E departments.
“Sadly, Labour ministers still fail our NHS, pandemic or no pandemic.
“If they hadn’t cut NHS beds by 28% since devolution, did have comprehensive winter plans to deal with higher demand, and brought in Conservative proposals for diagnostic hubs to handle the Covid-built backlog in treatment, maybe Wales would be in a far better position.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We acknowledge the scale of these challenges and the impact on staff and patients.
“Health Boards are responsible for improving ambulance patient handover times and we expect to see them deliver improvement in this area.
“A broad range of actions are already in place including recruitment of additional ambulance clinicians, creation of urgent primary care centres and a new national programme to support people to return home from hospital when ready.
“We have also announced £25 million in recurrent funding.”