Over 500 deaths in England last year after long ambulance waits | NHS

More than 500 seriously ill patients died last year before they could receive treatment at the hospital after the ambulance they called arrived within 15 hours, according to an investigation by the Guardian.

Among the fatalities were people who had suffered a stroke or heart attack, whose breathing suddenly collapsed or who were involved in a traffic collision. In each case, it took significantly longer for the ambulance crew to arrive than the NHS’s target time to respond to the emergency.

At least 511 people have died in England in such circumstances after a 999 call in 2022, according to figures provided by NHS Ambulance Funds and the results of coroners’ inquests.

Such tragedies are becoming more common as large numbers of ambulances are stranded outside hospitals, unable to unload their patients to staff in overcrowded emergency departments. The 511 deaths were more than double the 220 known comparable deaths that occurred in 2021.

Bereaved relatives told how the pain of losing a loved one was compounded by the ambulance crew who took so long to arrive and begin treatment. Coroners, senior doctors and ambulance staff say the scale of loss of life illustrates the increasing risks to patients from the implosion of NHS urgent and emergency services.

“The more than 500 deaths a year when an ambulance doesn’t arrive on time is tragic and avoidable,” said Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors. “These figures are deeply disturbing. It’s the equivalent of a lot of passenger planes crashing.”


Rita Taylor, who was 84, died at home in Milton Keynes last October after falling at home, hitting her head and experiencing a brain bleed. The inquest into her death found that the ambulance was called at 10.28am and “due to lack of funds, did not arrive until 5.17pm” – almost seven hours later.

Tom Osborne, the Milton Keynes coroner, concluded: “Delays in dispatching an ambulance meant that many opportunities to be admitted to hospital and treated were missed.” He was so concerned about the ambulance delay that he issued a Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) report – a legal warning – to NHS Minister Will Quince and South Central Ambulance Service.

The 511 deaths the Guardian found occurred last year after delayed ambulance response, possibly an underestimate of the true number. Only three of England’s 10 regional ambulance services have provided full-year figures for the last two years, as requested.

We obtained data on four other persons in management files. Three others – London, East Midlands and East of England Ambulance Service – have not provided and are not releasing any figures on such deaths, despite all 10 trusts being required to do so every quarter to improve care.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) recorded 248 deaths last year where its crews were unable to respond in time to patients deemed a Category 1 or Category 2 emergency. This is more than double the 122 deaths caused by “delayed response” ambulances” in 2021

Ambulances are expected to respond to Category 1 calls within seven minutes and Category 2 calls within 18 minutes. When Aaron Morris, 31, was involved in a motorcycle accident in County Durham last July, it took 49 minutes and 49 seconds for NEAS to respond, despite six different calls for urgent help.

An investigation by NEAS found that the ambulance was not assigned until 25 minutes after the initial call, and there was a 95% chance he would have survived had there been no delays interfering with his care. Stephen Segasby, Chief Operating Officer of NEAS, extended his “sincere and heartfelt condolences” to Morris’s widow Sam and family.

West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) and Yorkshire Ambulance Service each recorded 70 such deaths last year. For WMAS, it was more than three times the 22 it had in 2021.

Andrew Cox, a senior coroner for Cornwall, recently issued a PFD to Steve Barclay, the health secretary, after hearing in separate inquests that the three patients who died did so after an ambulance that took two and a half, nine and 19 hours respectively. , in 2021 and 2022.

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Laurence Turner, GMB’s head of policy and research, said: “These new figures reveal a brutal reality in the ambulance service. The horrific scale of this loss of life is an unbearable burden on staff and patients’ relatives. This is a hidden scandal and unfortunately we know the true death toll will be much higher. More than half of GMB ambulance members witnessed deaths due to delays.”

Mark Docherty, Executive Director of Nursing at WMAS, recently told the Birmingham and Solihull Joint Audit Committee that ambulance crews were stranded outside emergency departments, a major cause of patient deaths due to delayed responses.

“It’s not a personnel or money issue,” he told councillors. “We don’t want to spend every day visiting families and apologizing to their relatives or loved ones for dying when they shouldn’t. I think it’s completely preventable.”

The London Ambulance Service said it did not keep records of such deaths, even though one of its officials, Helen Woodford, told the service’s board last September that it faced “a large number of incidents reported as deaths attributable to delays occurring due to high demand level.

NHS leaders, worker groups and think tanks blame the increased need for care, years of underfunding and understaffing at hospitals that are so overburdened they have to force patients to stay outside in ambulances for hours, leaving paramedics unable to respond to other calls 999.

NHS England did not respond directly to the figures. A spokesman said: “NHS staff have worked exceptionally hard, particularly throughout the winter, to continue to provide care to patients despite record levels of demand, industrial action, the ‘twin’ of Covid and flu and reduced capacity due to thousands of beds occupied every day by patients whose condition of health allows discharge from the hospital.

“Despite this incredible pressure on services, which has continued this year, the NHS has delivered significant improvements in ambulance capacity over the past two months, with response times to category 2 calls an hour faster in January and February than in December.

“We know there is more to be done so last month the NHS launched an Emergency Care Recovery Plan which sets out how we plan to reduce waiting times and increase efficiency, with hundreds of extra ambulances, thousands of beds and increased use of measures such as urgent community response teams.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of those who have lost loved ones. No one should wait longer than necessary for emergency assistance and we are taking urgent action to reduce waiting times. We have developed a plan to deliver one of the fastest and longest-lasting improvements to emergency waiting times in the history of the NHS, backed by record funding.”

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