'The system is clogged up' - South West hospitals among worst for ambulance handover times

  • Watch Caron Bell's report

The South Western Ambulance Service is continuing to miss targets when responding to the most serious cases, according to figures released today (8 December).

The trust covers 20 per cent of England, from Swindon to the Isles of Scilly.

Last month - November 2022 - it handled more than 80,000 incidents.

Staff say a large part of the problem is the amount of time it takes for a patient to be handed over by ambulance to A&E, and the problem is getting worse.

Around one in seven ambulance patients in England are still waiting more than an hour to be handed to A&E teams at hospitals.

  • More than half of patients had to wait for more than an hour at Royal Cornwall Hospital - the worst for this issue in the country

  • 42 per cent of University Hospitals Bristol & Weston patients waited for more than an hour to be handed over

  • 41 per cent of patients at Gloucestershire Hospitals waited for more than an hour to be handed over

  • Only 35 per cent of patients were discharged when they were ready last week across the South West

Those working at the trust say the system is clogged up because people are not being discharged from hospital.

Deputy Clinical Director, Adrian South, said: "It's a whole system issue. So the real challenge lies with being able to recruit into social care.

"Across the South West there are patients in our hospitals currently that could be discharged out into the community, but are unable to do so because of the real wide challenges.

"Health and social care are working really hard to address those challenges. But currently that means patients can't leave hospital to go back into their own homes or into the community.

"Because those patients can't leave the wards in the hospitals, the wards are unable to accept patients from the emergency department.

"The emergency department then in turn are unable to accept patients as quickly as we'd like in some cases from our ambulances."

ITV News has reported on multiple stories of those affected so far this year, such as that of a 79-year-old woman from Cornwall who waited in the back of an ambulance for more than 20 hours with a broken hip outside hospital in August.

In recent months there have been incidents where dozens or more ambulances were spotted queueing outside the emergency department at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for several hours.

In October, it was revealed that on one occasion that more than 30 ambulances were stacked up at Treliske waiting to discharge their patients into the hospital.

In its autumn statement, the Government announced £4.7 billion in 2024-25 for the adult social care system in England - this includes £1 billion to directly support discharges from hospital into the community.

Ambulance staff across England and Wales will go on strike on 21 December in a dispute over pay. Clinically trained managers will switch to the frontline to try and fill gaps.

In the meantime staff are reminding people to only call 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.