Third of ambulance patients wait 30 minutes or longer to be handed over to A&E

Around one in three patients arriving by ambulance at hospitals in England last week waited more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E, figures show.

NHS England data analysed by the PA news agency shows 28,498 delays of half an hour or longer were recorded across all hospital trusts in the week to December 10.

This was 34% of the 84,268 arrivals by ambulance where the handover time was known.

The figure is up from 25% for the week ending November 26.

Data for the week ending December 3 is incomplete and cannot be compared directly with the latest figures.

It comes as other data shows a slight drop in the overall NHS waiting list for treatment, to 7.71 million treatments waiting to be carried out at the end of October, relating to 6.44 million patients.

(PA Graphics)

This is down from the record 7.77 million treatments and 6.50 million patients at the end of September.

Earlier, the Prime Minister said the Government will “keep a close eye” on ambulance delays, when asked how bad they will get.

Rishi Sunak said: “We know that winter is always a challenging time for the NHS and that’s why this year, as Prime Minister, I made sure that we started planning with the NHS for winter earlier than we’ve ever done it.

“And together with £1 billion of extra funding – that’s going on things like expanding A&E departments, putting more ambulances on the road, and crucially discharge and the social care sector so that people can go back to their homes, back to their local communities once they’ve finished being in hospital – and we can free up that capacity to treat urgent patients.

“All of that is making a difference and we’ve seen considerable improvements since this time last year, but obviously we’ll keep a close eye on it and work closely with the NHS to deliver everyone the care that they need.”

Mr Sunak was also questioned on whether he would fail on his pledge to cut NHS waiting lists by the end of the year.

He said the NHS had been making good progress tackling the backlog before strike action.

Thousands of appointments have had to be reschedule due to strike action this year, with more strikes by junior doctors scheduled for next week and in January.

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Mr Sunak said: “The thing that has made that difficult is obviously all the industrial action and the strikes that we’ve had.

“Now, I’m pleased that we have largely resolved those with the consultants most recently – obviously with other NHS workers earlier.

“(It’s) Disappointing that the junior doctors are still threatening industrial action when everyone else has settled with the Government.

“It’s hard to get the backlogs down when people are on strike – I think what we will see is that, actually, over the last few weeks that we haven’t had industrial action, people are starting to see progress in bringing down the waiting list, and that shows people the improvement, the investments we’ve made – more doctors, more nurses, more beds, more surgical capacity, more diagnostic capacity.

“All of that can work to bring waiting lists down, but we do need people to be at work, so I urge the junior doctors to consider the offer the Government has put forward. Everyone else has settled and it’s really on them to do the right thing.”

The data published on Thursday also showed that 15% of ambulance handovers in England last week, or 12,797 patients, were delayed by more than an hour.

This was up from 9%, or 8,239 patients, a fortnight earlier but was slightly lower than the 17% recorded in the equivalent week in 2022.

When it comes to monthly figures for November, ambulance response times improved, though no category of calls hit national targets.

(PA Graphics)

NHS England said A&Es continue to see high demand, with more than two million people (2,162,122) attending emergency departments in November, with 545,636 emergency admissions.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said of the overall waiting list: “We know NHS staff have continued to pull out all the stops to deliver for patients and work towards the aims in our elective care and urgent and emergency care recovery plans, while contending with ongoing pressure, and it is great to see clearly that hard work reflected in today’s figures.

“With the overall waiting list for elective care coming down, ambulance response times faster than both last month and the same time last year, as well as hundreds of new staff joining the emergency care workforce ahead of winter, this progress is excellent.

“While the sheer amount of care being delivered for patients by our staff is incredible, we know we still face a challenging winter on a number of fronts, with the number of patients in hospital with flu and norovirus increasing considerably each week, continued issues discharging patients who are medically fit due to a lack of social care capacity, and another period of industrial action ahead of the Christmas bank holidays.

“Our staff will once more be prioritising urgent and emergency care to protect patient safety and ensure those in life-saving emergencies can receive the best possible care, and the public can continue to play their part by using NHS services in the usual way – calling 999 in an emergency and using NHS 111 for other health conditions, and by getting their flu and Covid jabs if eligible.”