Maximum ambulance turnaround times in Scotland hit nearly 11 hours, figures show

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Some ambulances had to wait more than ten hours before handing their patients over to their accident-and-emergency (A&E) departments as Scotland’s NHS strained under the weight of Omicron.

The new figures, obtained by Scottish Labour, show the longest wait for ambulances at all of Scotland’s A&E departments between the start of October last year and the end of last month.

Average ambulance turnaround times have improved slightly to an average of just under 38 minutes compared to 40 minutes in November, but the average wait for the longest 10 per cent has risen by eight minutes to one hour and 13 minutes.

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Scottish Labour have criticised ambulance turnaround times at Scottish hospitalsScottish Labour have criticised ambulance turnaround times at Scottish hospitals
Scottish Labour have criticised ambulance turnaround times at Scottish hospitals

Turnaround is considered the length of time from an ambulance arriving at hospital to when it is declared ready for use again, including time taken to hand over patients, waiting for equipment, and cleaning the vehicle.

The longest turnaround time for any single ambulance during the past three months was almost 11 hours (10 hours and 43 minutes) at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

Kilmarnock’s University Hospital Crosshouse saw the second longest turnaround time at nine hours and six minutes.

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the figures were “incredibly worrying”.

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She said: “"These maximum turnaround times are incredibly worrying and show the immense strain that our ambulance service is under.

“Make no mistake, turnaround times of this length are both dangerous and unacceptable.

"Staff are working tirelessly at all hours, but [health secretary] Humza Yousaf has entirely failed to support them throughout the winter ambulance crisis.

"We have heard stories of people dying in ambulances on driveways due to lengthy waits, whilst others have died before the ambulance even arrives.”

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Glasgow’s flagship hospital also had one of the longest maximum waits, with one ambulance waiting seven hours and 37 minutes at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital before it could pick up another patient.

Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy was among the longest waits, with a longest turnaround time of six hours and 53 minutes, while the Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbet’s longest wait was four hours and 22 minutes.

Edinburgh’s hospitals fared better, but still had maximum turnaround times of four hours and two minutes for the Royal Infirmary and three hours and 14 minutes for the Sick Kids.

The shortest turnarounds in Scotland were at Balfour Hospital in Kirkwall at just 45 minutes, Caithness General Hospital in Wick with an hour and 12 minutes, and Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick with a wait of an hour and 22 minutes.

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The longest turnaround time on record is 11 hours and 17 minutes, recorded in 2018.

The Scottish Government said the times were made worse by Covid-19, which it labelled the “biggest shock” to the NHS in its existence and that health boards and the ambulance service were working to reduce turnaround times.

A spokesperson said: “Challenges resulting in long ambulance turnarounds are ones for the whole system to respond to and steps are being taken within hospitals to receive patients into emergency departments as quickly as possible.

“Times are affected by the period taken to hand over a patient, waiting for the return of equipment and cleaning the ambulance. Steps to minimise ambulance waiting times include jointly agreed escalation plans and daily communication between the Scottish Ambulance Service and hospital teams.”

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