Increased ambulances waiting times outside a hospital while transferring a patient is a major factor behind increased response times, research has found.
Analysis by the Health Foundation has shown that handover delays are an increasing issue with one in ten ambulances stuck outside an infirmary for more than an hour in July 2022, compared to one in 50 in July 2019.
The report, published on Friday, also found that patients with the most critical calls are waiting 18 per cent longer than in 2018/19. For non-urgent cases, waits have doubled to an average wait time of three hours.
Charles Tallack, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, has called for urgent “whole system” focus ahead of a challenging winter for the NHS.
He said: “The sharp increase in handover delays is a major cause of the increase in ambulance waiting times.
“The cumulative effect of demand returning to pre-pandemic levels, the need to catch up with backlogs, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 has resulted in the pressures we are now seeing right across the system – putting patients’ lives at risk.”
The Health Foundation, an independent charity set up to lobby for improvements to the NHS, said that rising times suggest different parts of the system – from social care to hospitals – are under severe strain, putting patients’ lives at risk.
Their report added that the increase in ambulance handover delays is largely being driven by the lack of hospital bed capacity and delays in discharging patients.
Mr Tallack called for greater investment in hospital capacity, out of hospital care - including social care, and community services, such as mental health services, which can prevent health conditions becoming crises.
He added: “Delays at the front door of the hospital are a consequence of wider challenges hospitals are facing in discharging patients.
“Getting a handle on this must be a priority for the new secretary of state for health and social care. Tackling ambulance performance will require further investment in NHS and social care capacity and a comprehensive, funded workforce plan to ensure services have the staff they need.”
A Department of Health statement read: “We are providing an extra £500 million to speed up discharge and free up hospital beds, reducing waits in A&E and getting ambulances quickly back out on the road. This is alongside NHS plans to rapidly boost capacity and resilience ahead of winter, including increasing the number of NHS 999 and 111 call handlers and creating the equivalent of at least 7,000 more beds.
“NHS England is investing an additional £150 million in ambulance trusts to support response time improvements and £20 million to upgrade the ambulance fleet, while the ambulance and support staff workforce has grown by almost 40 per cent since April 2010.”
The London Ambulance Service has been approached for comment.