Revealed: More than 2,000 patients '˜had to wait over an hour' for ambulance

NEARLY 2,000 patients had to wait over an hour for an ambulance in the Capital during the last year, figures obtained by the Evening News reveal.

Monday, 16th October 2017, 7:33 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 4:34 am
Figures revealed by the Evening News have been described as 'worrying' by health campaigners.

Paramedics took hours to respond to some non life-threatening calls – with one shout in Craigentinny taking nearly nine-and-a-half hours.

Health campaigners said the times taken were worrying while ambulance bosses said emergency calls including heart attacks were handled within six minutes on average.

Ambulance chiefs today insisted the figures needed to be seen within the context of nearly 80,000 total calls, with only 2.4 per cent waiting over 60 minutes.

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Honorary chair of Scottish Patients Association, Margaret Watt, said: “I can understand why there’s a four-hour delay.

“There shouldn’t be, but that’s what happens when you’ve not got enough space in the emergency departments to take patients in.”

“I’ve been there this year and seen what happens,” she said. “People who are admitted lie there on trolleys. They have to wait for a cubicle to become free in emergency and until one’s free, ambulance staff have to wait in a big queue.

“They can’t leave the patient. The receptionist signs them in and they get a cubicle – there can be 10 to 12 in a queue which obviously holds up 12 ambulances.”

Ms Watt said she had to wait on a trolley in A&E earlier this year for an hour and 54 minutes with a suspected heart attack while a paramedic waited with her.

“It’s not the fault of the ambulance staff,” she said. “I think it’s a very precarious position because it’s not the fault of people phoning up having heart attacks or strokes either.

“The system needs to be looked at and ironed out.”

Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and shadow health secretary Miles Briggs described the figures as “extremely concerning”.

She said: “Clearly the ambulance service is under immense strain, and the Scottish Government needs to do more to help out. These may be statistics, but behind each one will be a patient who’ll have been caused immense distress.

“When people need an ambulance, they generally expect to see it arrive promptly. It’s a reflection on the SNP’s disastrous stewardship of the health budget that this isn’t happening in so many instances.”

Last month, the Evening News told how a patient suffering a seizure outside the parliament had to wait an hour and 42 minutes for an ambulance.

Paramedics were called at 2pm after the woman, aged in her 20s, collapsed in front of shocked onlookers outside the Scottish Government building.

Yet it took until 3.42pm for a crew to arrive and take her to hospital. In the meantime she is believed to have been cared for by passers-by.

Scottish Ambulance Service have a target response for Category A – potentially life threatening incidents – of eight minutes. Targets for non life-threatening calls were scrapped last November.

Bosses apologised and blamed an extremely high level demand of calls with crews attending to patients with immediately life threatening conditions.

Figures show paramedics were called out 79,841 times between September 1 2016 and August 31 this year – equivalent to nine calls every hour.

Of those, 1,936 took more than an hour to respond to – or just over two percent.

In August last year, the Evening News reported how patients forced to wait more than 20 minutes for an ambulance jumped by more than 1,400 in a year – a 50 percent increase.

The waiting-time was more than double the Scottish Ambulance Service’s eight minute target for call-outs classed as life-threatening.

A total of 4,350 of the highest-risk patients, known as category A, waited more than 20 minutes in 2015-16, up from 2,891 the previous year.

And in March last year, figures revealed attack victims in the Capital were having to wait longer than they should for an ambulance.

Figures showed that in South East division – covering Lothian and Borders – the proportion of cardiac arrest cases where an ambulance arrived in eight minutes was 72.62 percent. Emergency crews are meant to reach such patients within eight minutes and the official target is to do this on 75 percent of occasions.

In 2015, the Scottish Ambulance Service also failed to meet a target to respond to at least three-quarters of life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is training 1,000 new paramedics over the next five years to help cut response times. Dissatisfied patients are also encouraged to report their experience so lessons can be learned.

A Scottish Ambulance spokeswoman said: “Patients with immediately life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest, are prioritised and receive the fastest response.

“Latest figures for September show that we reached these patients on average within 5.44 minutes. In less urgent cases, our call handlers may spend more time with patients to better understand the their health needs and ensure they are sent the most appropriate resource for their condition.

“In these cases, patients may not require to be taken to hospital because their condition is less serious and can be treated either within the home or by onward transportation to an alternative facility. We are moving towards focussing on improving patient outcomes rather than simply measuring the time it takes to respond.”