Hertfordshire: Ambulance at Lister Hospital 'faced five-hour wait'

020221 Lister Hospital Stevenage Emergency department external

Ambulances at one of the region's biggest hospitals have had to wait up to five hours to hand over patients at A&E, according to a new report.

Board papers to the trust which runs the Lister Hospital in Stevenage also said that at times there were as many as 10 ambulances waiting to deliver patients.

Health bosses in Hertfordshire said they were taking the reports "extremely seriously", after they were raised at a meeting of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

National NHS officials have now stepped in to instruct hospital chiefs across the country to review and address delays in handing over the care of patients from ambulances to emergency departments.

According to national policy, ambulance handovers should take no more than 15 minutes – ensuring patients receive necessary care and ambulances get back on the road.

But data presented to the board shows that in September fewer than one in 10 ambulance handovers at the trust – just 7% – were completed within the 15 minutes target.

On 783 occasions it took more than 30 minutes – and on 336 occasions it took more than an hour. The average handover time was between 24 and 78 minutes.

But the maximum handover time ranged from 54 minutes to 321 minutes - more than five hours.

Chief executive Nick Carver said the trust was working to improve.

"We think we do better than many other place. We think frankly our facilities help us but we do – again for the avoidance of doubt – recognise there’s more we can do individually and as a system to reduce the delays still further."

'A very challenging ask'

In a letter sent to the trust, senior national and regional officials from the NHS acknowledged that staff were already "working incredibly hard to resolve this problem".

They stressed action must be taken to ensure ambulances were not used as additional emergency department cubicles – and that crews can safely offload patients to the care of A&E.

Initiatives such as "surge capacity" and "fit to sit" for patients that do not require a trolley, as well as measures to enable earlier discharge, were also highlighted.

Other measures had been taken to try to reduce the number of patients taken to hospital emergency departments.

At the meeting, the actions being taken by the trust were outlined in a report by chief operating officer Julie Smith.

She called it “a very challenging ask” – and pointed to partners in the hospital and the community, stressing the need for "a collective response".

“It is important that it is regarded not only as a ENHT issue to resolve but one that system partners need to work together to address,” said the report.

In September 16,086 people were seen at A&E at the Lister Hospital or the Urgent Care Centre, at the QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City.

That equates to 536 patients a day – a figure 35% higher than in October 2020.

Almost three in every 10 patients seeking emergency care from the trust in September had to wait more than four hours.

National NHS targets say that 95% of patients should be seen and treated at an emergency department within four hours.

Meanwhile, the East of England Ambulance Service is urging people calling 999 not to hang up as it warns of possible response delays.

The service says it is extremely busy due to a combination of the pandemic and winter pressures.

Patient levels are "extraordinarily high" which means they have to prioritise the most life-threatening cases.