Trolley logjams at accident and emergency departments are keeping ambulances off the road and putting lives at risk across the North West, claims a shock report.
Paramedic crews are waiting up to six hours to hand over patients to hospital casualty staff in the region, the equivalent of losing almost 10 ambulances a day, according to a trade union.
Figures released by the GMB, which represents many ambulance staff, show that on one day alone – last Monday – more than 300 crews in the North West waited for longer than an hour to book patients into A&E.
The Government target for handovers is 15 minutes and yet in two instances on that day paramedics were kept waiting for six hours.
Union officials say staff are now at “breaking point” as they kick their heels in hospital corridors anxious to get back out on the road saving lives.
“Ambulance staff have seen a significant rise in calls in the past months, especially those with serious and life-threatening conditions,” said regional organiser Lisa Ryan.
“Those calls are now being stacked within control rooms due to no vehicles being available to send.
“Staff are now at breaking point, increasingly frustrated hanging around hospital corridors knowing that patients in the community are waiting for their help.
“They should not be expected to look after patients in hospital corridors while people suffer in the street.”
It is claimed the delays are having a knock-on effect on ambulance response times for the most critical 999 calls.
Figures produced by the GMB show around one third of all life-threatening “Red” call-outs in the region are not being reached within the Government target time of eight minutes.
Only 69.3 per cent of Red One calls – where the patient has suffered either a cardiac arrest or stopped breathing – were reached in that time during January.
On Red Two emergencies, involving all other life-threatening conditions, crews only managed to hit the eight-minute target in 63.5 per cent of cases.
Responding to the report, the ambulance service in the North West said it was doing all it could to free up crews, including putting liaison officers into hospitals to speed up handovers.
But a spokesman said it was “not uncommon” for paramedics to be off the road for a significant time due to A&E bottlenecks.
NWAS revealed life-threatening call-outs in the region were 33 per cent up on 2014/15 and showing “no signs of slowing down”.
“This undoubtedly puts pressure on the hospitals and unfortunately means that we are waiting longer to hand over our patients into their care and get back out on the road to respond to other patients,” said the spokesman.
“The handover target is 15 mins, but it is not uncommon for times to exceed this and there are occasions when the handover can take four hours or more.
“This does impact on our overall response target performance. On average we lose the equivalent of 9.5 ambulances each day due to delayed handovers.
“This issue is one which we have discussed at length with our commissioners and are working alongside our NHS colleagues to address.”
No individual hospitals are named in the report. But Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the A&E departments at Preston and Chorley, said it was already working with ambulance liaison officers to speed up handovers.
Operations director Suzanne Hargreaves said: “We constantly monitor our ambulance handover waiting times and we work closely with the ambulance service to try and transfer patients promptly.
“However when all of the cubicles in our emergency departments are already full we do sometimes see a delay.
“We have a number of measures in place designed to try and reduce any delays. We are working with a team of ambulance liaison officers who carry out the handover from the ambulance crews and then they take responsibility for the patient while the patient is waiting to be brought into one of our emergency department cubicles, which means the ambulance crews can go and help others.
“We are also planning to bring in additional nurses who will focus on taking the handovers from the ambulance crews.
“We regularly meet with our ambulance service colleagues and will continue to work closely with them to ensure that patients are admitted into our emergency departments as promptly as possible.”
A spokesman for the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was unavailable for comment.