More ambulances wait an hour for London A&Es as city’s health crisis grows

(James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
(James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

The number of ambulances waiting more than an hour to hand over patients to London A&Es has risen by nearly a third in a week amid unprecedented pressure on NHS emergency care, it was revealed on Friday.

The latest figures showed more than 1,800 ambulances in the capital faced a delay of over 60 minutes when handing over a patient to A&E in the week up to January 1. This is a rise of 29 per cent on the week before and comes as experts said the capital’s hospitals are facing their worst-ever winter crisis.

It means 15 per cent of ambulances arriving at London’s hospitals faced a delay of more than an hour. The target is for handovers to be completed within 15 minutes. Ambulance chiefs have warned that handover delays are leading to patients dying.

The figures emerged as junior doctors threatened to strike for 72 hours in March amid more stark warnings over the crisis facing health services this winter. The British Medical Association said the junior medics would stage a “full walkout” if Health Secretary Steve Barclay does not meet with the union to negotiate a solution.

A ballot for industrial action will open on Monday and comes amid ongoing strike action by nurses and paramedics.

Assessing the current crisis in the NHS, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said the December cold snap, Covid and flu had piled extra pressure on “already extremely stretched NHS services”.

Professor Powis told Radio 4’s Today programme hospitals are “very very full” with nearly 13,000 patients waiting to be discharged into social care services which were also under intense pressure.

“That means that things are backing up,” Professor Powis said. “So we’re working hard to unblock that. It’s been a very, very pressured winter, and that is likely to continue.”

A strike by junior doctors would mark only the second time they have staged strikes in a decade. They will not provide emergency care if strike action does take place and individual NHS trusts will need to arrange cover to ensure patient safety, the BMA said. It sets the union apart from the Royal College of Nursing, who have not withdrawn emergency care despite taking strike action.

The BMA said successive governments have overseen 15 years of real-term pay cuts for junior doctors in England, which amounts to a “staggering and unjustifiable” 26.1 per cent decline in pay since 2008/09.

It said patients were suffering and exhausted staff were leaving the NHS but the Government “fails to see the crisis in front of it”.

Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The Prime Minister says his door and that of the Health Secretary are ‘always open’. But after more than a decade of pay cuts no offer to restore our pay has been made... all our calls to meet the Health Secretary have been ignored.”

The RCN staged two days of strike action last month and will walk out again on January 18 and 19, as London hospitals face their worst-ever winter crisis amid flu cases, staff sickness and industrial action.

St George’s Hospital on Thursday declared a “critical incident” due to “significant pressure on flow” , saying it needed to improve the “discharge of patients across all ward areas”.