Measures agreed to speed up ambulance response times

A South West Ambulance Service ambulance

A South West Ambulance Service ambulance - Credit: Contributed

Lengthy waiting times for ambulances could be reduced if all Devon’s acute hospitals adopted a system used at the RD&E, according to a report. 

The NHS standard contract states that all handovers of patients between ambulances and emergency departments must take place within 15 minutes, with none taking more than half an hour. 

More than one in three (36 per cent) of the South Western Ambulance Service’s handovers were delayed by 30 minutes or more in the week ending Sunday, February 20, significantly more than other regions such as the south east (12 per cent) and London (14 per cent). 

The Spotlight review into ambulance response times by Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee said many ambulances were ‘queuing outside hospitals, and unable to respond to other emergency calls’. 

But the report said the Royal Devon & Exeter (RD&E) Hospital does not have this problem, because it has a ‘rapid patient assessment and triage model which benefits from senior decision-making clinicians at the front door. 

“This results in patients either being assessed as fit to sit or provided with a trolley until a bed is available in the hospital, rather than remain in an ambulance outside the hospital.” 

The report said Devon’s three other acute hospitals should adopt a similar model to reduce handover delays. 

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At the meeting of Devon County Council’s health and adult care Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, June 21, councillors approved this recommendation and six others designed to tackle slow ambulance response times. 

However, the Spotlight review report accepts there is a ‘complex landscape’ to healthcare in the county. 

It states how the NHS has been under huge pressure for the last two years through the pandemic, as well as having ongoing staffing issues and demand for social care being higher than the available capacity – leading to people staying in hospital longer than necessary. 

Cllr Jess Bailey, the county councillor for Otter Valley, proposed to the meeting that inpatient beds in Devon’s community hospitals should be reopened to help tackle this lack of capacity. But the motion was only supported by Lib Dem councillors David Cox and Martin Wrigley, and was voted down by the Tory controlled committee. 

In response to the Spotlight review, a spokesperson for the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) said: “The whole health and social care system has been under sustained pressure for many months now, meaning patients are having to wait longer for an ambulance than they would expect. 

“Our performance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, partly due to handover delays caused by capacity issues in hospitals, and in community and social care. This means it’s currently taking us too long to get an ambulance to patients. 

“We continue to work on a daily basis with our partners to ensure our crews can get back out on the road as quickly as possible, to respond to other 999 calls.”