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Ambulance diversions double in one year


7 April 2017

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Hospitals in England have had to turn ambulances away nearly twice as many times this year as the three years before, according to a report by a leading health think tank.

Research by The Nuffield Trust found that hospitals closed their doors to ambulances 478 times between 1 December 2016 and 28 February 2017.

During the three previous years ambulance were turned away an average of 249 times.

Hospitals in England have had to turn ambulances away nearly twice as many times this year as the three years before, according to a report by a leading health think tank.

Research by The Nuffield Trust found that hospitals closed their doors to ambulances 478 times between 1 December 2016 and 28 February 2017.

During the three previous years ambulance were turned away an average of 249 times.

The think tank said the extra time paramedics are spending on the road as a result is the reason why ambulance services are struggling to meet their targets for urgent response times.

According to the most recent figures from NHS England for January this year, just 67% of the most critical calls for an ambulance received a response within eight minutes – significantly less than the target of 75%.

However the figures also revealed that pressures facing ambulances have been mounting over the last five years with the number of the most serious calls increasing by 7.4% year on year.

Five hospital trusts accounted for over half of all the 478 diverts reported this winter: Pennine Acute Hospitals, Northumbria Healthcare, County Durham and Darlington, South Tyneside and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals.

In the report, the College of Paramedics explains the effect of these diverts on ambulance services:

Richard Webber, spokesperson for the College of Paramedics, said he was sympathetic to hospitals that have to close due to overcrowding but he said the time taken to reach A&Es farther away ‘is significant’.

He said: ‘There is a ‘double whammy’ in that not only do crews have to drive further away once a divert is implemented – once that’s happened, an ambulance crew will then also need to travel further to get back to their own area to respond to the next emergency call.’

Saffron Cordery, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, added that the findings of the report were ‘stark’.

She said: ‘The sharp increase in the number of diversions is very worrying. Further steps will be needed across health and social care to address these pressures.’

A spokesperson from NHS England said: ‘Currently too many ambulances are dispatched to simply hit targets rather than attend to those patients most in need. This is why we’re carefully testing a change to the way in which the services can respond and will make our recommendations known in the coming weeks.’

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