Take a taxi to hospital in an emergency instead of an ambulance, says health chief

·4-min read
Speeding ambulance - Getty Images/iStockphoto
Speeding ambulance - Getty Images/iStockphoto

People who need an ambulance should consider taking a taxi to hospital, the head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine suggested as accident and emergency (A&E) waiting times hit record highs.

Some 24,138 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in April, from a decision to admit to actually being admitted.

The so-called 12-hour “trolley waits” are up from 22,506 in March, and are the highest for any calendar month in records going back to Aug 2010.

According to NHS data, the number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission fell to 131,905 in April, down from an all-time high of 136,298 the previous month.

The average response time in April for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents – defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and two seconds.

This improved slightly from March when the response time was nine minutes and 35 seconds, which was the longest average since current records began in Aug 2017.

Response times for category two emergency calls, such as burns, epilepsy and strokes, took an average of 51 minutes and 22 seconds in April, down from one hour, one minute and three seconds in March.

However, Dr Katherine Henderson, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said that emergency pressures are “more serious than we’ve ever seen it”.

For the first time in her 20-year career, emergency services have “broken the commitment” to get an ambulance to a patient in a timely manner, she said.

Asked if the public should be worried about an ambulance reaching a loved one on time, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would be worried whether it’d be possible to get an ambulance to them in a timely way. I’d be looking very carefully at what alternatives I had.”

Asked if the “alternatives” meant taking a taxi or driving the patient directly, Dr Henderson said: “Exactly.”

“At the moment, we are seeing an increasing number of patients who are making their own way to hospital, which means that our walk-in queue is now no longer patients who managed to walk in,” she added.

“They may be patients who should have come by ambulance, so that makes it more difficult for us to know who’s in the queue [and] how serious those patients are.”

She added that emergency departments are “absolutely packed” and that doctors “can’t get flow out”.

NHS England said there were more life-threatening ambulance call-outs and 999 calls answered in April than the same month in all previous years, whilst A&Es also saw the second busiest April on record.

It added that bed capacity was “constrained”, with almost 12,589 beds taken up on average each day during April by patients who no longer needed to be in hospital because of pressure in places including social care.

Analysis by The Telegraph found that the weekly average of patients stuck in hospital every day, who were fit to be discharged, was 57.9 per cent at the end of April.

The waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England, such as hip replacements and cataract surgery, hit 6.4 million at the end of March, up from 6.2 million in February and the highest number since records began in 2007.

However, the NHS England figures, published on Thursday, show that the number of people waiting more than two years has dropped for the second month in a row.

A total of 16,796 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of March, down 28 per cent from 23,281 at the end of February.

Siva Anandaciva, the chief analyst at The King’s Fund think tank, said that unless the Government “grasp the nettle” on health and social care staffing shortages, patients will be left waiting in “discomfort, pain and deteriorating health”.

“Long waits for emergency care, previously only seen in the depths of winter, are now commonplace,” he added.

Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, said: “There is no doubt the NHS still faces pressures. And the latest figures are another reminder of the crucial importance of community and social care, in helping people in hospital leave when they are fit to do so, not just because it is better for them but because it helps free up precious NHS bed space.”

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