Ambulances in England improve call response times

ITV News' Dani Sinha explains why, on average, ambulance crews reached emergencies quicker in January than December in England

Ambulances across England have improved their response times for reaching people who called 999, new data shows.NHS England statistics show the average response time in January for ambulances dealing with the most urgent category one incidents, such as cardiac arrest, was eight and a half minutes. That is down from nearly 11 minutes in December.

The target standard response time for urgent incidents is seven minutes.

For category two calls, such as a stroke, it took an average of 32 minutes in January, which is down sharply from 90 minutes in December.

However, the response time is still well above the target of 18 minutes.

Improvement in response times could be influenced by factors such as less flu in the community, people keeping away from the health service due to nursing and ambulance strikes, and falling Covid cases.

Workers on the picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital in London during a strike by nurses and ambulance staff. Credit: PA

The number of 999 calls answered per day in January by ambulance services in England was also the lowest since March 2021.

Services answered 679,517 calls last month, almost 22,000 per day, both down a third (33%) on December 2022.

NHS England’s national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said staff are working "flat out" in an effort to deliver the best care for patients.

He added: "Separate figures also show the number of people in hospitals with norovirus has jumped significantly, which is a reminder that while flu cases continue to go down other viruses are still a very real concern, and often means additional unoccupied beds need to be closed to prevent the virus spreading to other patients, putting more pressure on bed capacity.

“And while strike action inevitably impacted on progress on the waiting list backlog, the NHS is making good progress toward virtually eliminating 18-month waits by April."

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England from a decision to admit to actually being admitted also dropped by more than a fifth in a month.

Statistics show that 42,735 people waited longer than 12 hours in January.

A figure that is down 22% from a record 54,532 in December but still the third highest total in records dating back to August 2010.In response Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: “Today's statistics are yet another damning verdict of the government’s management of the NHS.

“Thousands are stuck waiting in A&E or in the backs of ambulances for hours on end, and even more are struggling to get the social care they need. The Conservatives have been running the NHS into the ground for years and patients are paying the price.

“The government needs to get a grip and fix our NHS and social care services. They can start by paying our carers a proper wage to stop the exodus of workers leaving for better paid work in supermarkets and warehouses."

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Other statistics showcased an estimated 406,035 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of December.

This is down slightly from 406,575 at the end of November.

The government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.

Figures show the number of flu patients in hospitals in England has dropped for the fifth week in a row, but levels are still much higher than last year.

An average of 962 patients with flu were in hospital beds each day last week, down 25% from 1,291 in the week to January 29.

It is the fifth week in a row the number of flu patients in hospital has dropped, down 82% from a peak of 5,441 in the week to January 1.

But it is still much higher than the average 37 flu patients in hospital during the same week last year.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: ‘While falling rates of flu and Covid-19 have provided some respite, today’s figures show the NHS remains under severe strain.

“Pressures are being felt right across the health and care system but are most acute in urgent and emergency care.

“Ambulance response times improved substantially in January 2023. A&E waiting times also rebounded from last month’s record low, although over 482,000 people still waited over four hours.

“While these are grounds for cautious optimism, performance is still well below where it should be and worse than before the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the number of patients attending A&E departments in England fell in January amid industrial action across the health service.

A total of two million people attended emergency departments in January, down from a record of 2.3m in December.

A&E attendances were also down on pre-pandemic levels, with 2.1m patients attending emergency departments in England in January 2020.

Elsewhere, the number of people in England waiting longer than six weeks for a key diagnostic test has risen to its highest level since the summer of 2020, the NHS England shows.

Some 481,924 patients, 31.3% of the total, were waiting longer than six weeks for one of 15 standard tests in December, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.

This is up from 427,968 the previous month, 26.9% of the total, and the highest number waiting longer than six weeks since July 2020 when the total was 489,797 (39.6%).

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “This has been one of the toughest winters for the NHS, but the hard work of trust leaders and their staff is leading to promising results.

“Despite demand for urgent and emergency care services remaining very high, ambulance response times have improved considerably.

“However, we’re still not in the clear: waits of 18 months or more have gone up, and trust leaders are deeply concerned that other pressures – including staff shortages and escalating strikes – could not only obstruct future gains but derail ones already made.

“Bed occupancy is too high, still above what’s safe, despite more beds being made available with pressures also on mental health and community services.

“Trust leaders are also worried about the strain that delayed discharges are putting on the entire system.

“Currently, 14,000 medically fit patients are unable to leave hospital, in part due to the need for more investment in social care and community services.”