Exclusive: ITV films patients stuck on hospital trolleys for days as NHS struggles to cope

This video contains distressing images

ITV was granted unprecedented access to the current crisis in the NHS, which is also causing dangerous delays for ambulance crews. UK Editor Paul Brand reports

Hospitals are so overwhelmed that patients are being forced to sleep on trolleys for days on end outside A&E departments, ITV News can reveal. 

Our cameras were granted unprecedented access to the current crisis in the NHS, which is also causing dangerous delays to ambulance crews. 

ITV's Tonight programme spent two days filming with the North West Ambulance Service and Warrington Hospital.

Across the country, ambulance delays are at a record high. Patients having a stroke or heart attack are supposed to be reached within 18 minutes, but many are now waiting hours. 

Patients wait in the hospital corridor due to a lack of beds in A&E. Credit: ITV TONIGHT

NHS England wanted to explain what is causing the delays, inviting us to film inside Accident and Emergency at Warrington Hospital. 

There, we found long queues of patients along three corridors just outside the entrance, unable to be admitted to A&E due to a lack of beds. 

At the front of the queue was 92 year-old May Livesey. 

Brought to hospital with severe back pain, she had been waiting on her trolley for three days and two nights.

She was one of 19 patients on trolleys waiting to be admitted to A&E.

Her daughter, Janice Yates, told us: “I'm not happy, not happy at all. Mum’s been in a lot of pain, but the nurses and the doctors here have been absolutely excellent."

May Livesey, 92, was waiting on a trolley in a hospital corridor for three days

Many of the staff on shift the day we filmed had extended their shifts through the night to try and clear the backlog. But the queues inside A&E are causing queues outside too. 

Paramedics are unable to leave a patient until they’ve been handed over to hospital staff, so just beyond the doors to the department is a long line of ambulances caught up in the delay. 

Those crews cannot attend new calls while they are waiting for hours to hand over patients. 

That means one in ten people suffering a stroke or heart attack will now wait for almost two hours for help to arrive.

In Rugby, Natalie McMorran had to be driven to hospital by her partner Tommy Tapping when she suffered a heart attack at home. He was told the ambulance would take two hours and decided not to wait any longer. 

Natalie McMorran and her partner Tommy Tapping. Credit: ITV TONIGHT

“They said we strongly advise you not to take Natalie to the hospital – so I’m saying can you tell me the ambulance is close – otherwise I will. I don’t know whether I could have saved her life doing CPR myself. I’m just so glad I didn’t listen to what they said. I’m just glad we got there.”

Inside A&E Natalie collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Doctors saved her life, but her heart now only works at 25% of normal capacity. She cannot be sure how much of the damage was down to the delay to her treatment. 

Apologising for her wait, West Midlands Ambulance confirmed that their vehicles are routinely backed up at hospitals because of hold-ups in handing over patients. 

An exclusive survey for the Tonight programme of 2,300 ambulance staff by the GMB Union found 85% have witnessed delays which have seriously affected a patient’s recovery.

35% told us they believed they had been involved in cases where delays contributed to a patient’s death.  

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “These horrifying figures confirm exactly what GMB members are telling us.

“A decade of savage cuts, an explosion in demand and ambulance workers leaving in droves has left the service on the edge of disaster. "

Jeanette Carpenter's husband Richard collapsed while recovering at home from a heart operation, but the ambulance took five hours to arrive and she was left trying to save his life by herself

This video contains distressing images

The Tonight programme also gained exclusive access to the control room at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS). 

One dispatcher, Emma Plant, told us: “Every patient is a daughter, son, wife or husband and you are playing God with their lives and who gets a vehicle. 

“You’ve got 50 jobs, but you’ve only got four vehicles cleared – who gets the vehicle?” 

Another, Demi-Leigh O’Leary, told us of the distress of not being able to provide immediate help: “Most people are exhausted, to hear those patients deteriorate on the phone and not be alert and the breathing get worse, it’s really upsetting.” 

Ambulance staff wait in the hospital corridor. Credit: ITV TONIGHT

Demand is up across the NHS with A&E admissions rising by 10% in the last year. 

The challenge isn’t just getting patients into hospital but back out again.

Warrington Hospital took us to one ward where 136 patients were ready to be discharged, but with limited care in the community some have been waiting up to 6 weeks to leave.

Their delayed discharge means there are no beds on the wards to transfer patients from A&E, which in turn means no space in the emergency department to admit new arrivals, causing the queues of ambulances outside hospitals. 

Whereas once the pressures were felt in winter, they have now been embedded all year round.

Sharon Kilkenny, in charge of emergency admissions said: “Wherever possible we’d be discharging patients to their own home – but where that’s not possible, they do need respite care, nursing care and it's those placements that we have a challenge with, because they’re full."

Paul Brand explains how the government has responded to ITV News' reporting

Responding to the programme, the Department of Health said: “We absolutely recognise the pressures ambulance services are facing ... The NHS is providing support to the most challenged hospitals, to free up A&E and ambulance crews, so we can get patients seen quickly and ambulances back on the road." 

The Department of Health says the ambulance workforce is up by 40% since 2010 - with £20 million being invested this year in more ambulances. 

The government told us they have given £3.3 billion to hospitals to help discharge patients.

999: A National Emergency? Tonight is on Thursday 28th July, on ITV at 8.30pm

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know