London Ambulance calls drop by nearly a quarter during paramedics’ strike

Ambulances outside Waterloo Ambulance Station in south London (PA Wire)
Ambulances outside Waterloo Ambulance Station in south London (PA Wire)

The volume of calls to the London Ambulance Service dropped by nearly a quarter during paramedics’ strikes on Wednesday.

It is understood that the LAS received just under 4,000 calls, a decline of around 23 per cent on last Wednesday.

Members of Unison in the LAS staged a second day of industrial action on Wednesday in a dispute over pay and conditions. Paramedics walked out for 12 hours from 11am while call handlers walked out for six hours.

The figures suggest that Londoners heeded the NHS’ plea to only call 999 in a life-threatening emergency. Those without a “life or limb” condition were instead urged to contact 111.

LAS chief executive Daniel Elkeles said the strikes were “challenging” but thanked Londoners “for helping to keep 999 for life-threatening emergencies”.

“This meant we were able to continue to provide ‘life and limb’ cover and get to the most seriously ill and injured patients as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We would ask Londoners continue to use us wisely as we return to a normal service.”

During the previous strike day on December 21, call volumes into the service’s 999 and 111 control centres dropped by a third.

NHS figures show that ambulance delays for life-threatening calls reached a new record high in December, with the average response time for a Category 1 call rising to almost 11 minutes.

The figures were London were not available as the LAS is currently not releasing its response data as it fixes “anomalies” caused by the introduction of a new computer aided dispatch system.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E in London hospitals has risen by a third in a month, according to data released on Thursday.

A total of 9,588 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in London in December from a decision to admit to actually being admitted – a jump of 34 per cent on the previous month.

Julie Cunnane, an emergency medical technician who has worked at the London Ambulance Service for 26 years, said that paramedics were taking strike action as they feel there is “no end in sight” to the crisis engulfing London's hospitals.

“When I first started we were waiting around for patients to call us – now it's the other way round. You feel guilty when you have to tell a patient that you don't know how long they will have to wait with you in an ambulance,” she told the Standard.

“At the same time, you know there are patients calling you out there with serious conditions and you can't respond to them. I've never seen it like this. Years ago, we would have seen 7 or 8 patients per day, now we are lucky to see 3 or 4.”