BREAKING POINT: Emergency calls show no sign of slowing down

Ambulances wait at Blackpool Vics A&E department.
Ambulances wait at Blackpool Vics A&E department.
  • A&E patients cared for in corridors
  • Life-threatening 999 calls up 40%
  • No plans to break national pay cap

Health bosses at Blackpool Victoria Hospital today refused to break a national pay cap on agency workers – as it was revealed A&E patients are being cared for in the corridor.

Rocketing attendance figures have seen screens erected so nurses assigned to the hallway can treat patients, The Gazette can reveal.

It comes as the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) warned the number of urgent, life-threatening calls is currently 40 per cent higher than this time last year and shows ‘no signs of slowing down’.

Despite the crisis, hospital bosses say they have no plans to follow in Chorley hospital’s footsteps, after bosses there breached the pay cap brought in by the Government in order to ease a crippling staff shortage threatening to close its A&E.

The £3.3bn annual NHS spend on agency staff was targeted by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in November, who introduced a cap in a bid to reduce the bill by £1bn a year.

A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Blackpool, like most other trusts in the country, has been experiencing significant spikes in attendances during the winter months and an increased length of stay in our ward beds which has resulted in congestion at times in A&E.

“The agency cap rate is a challenge for the trust but we are doing our utmost to stay within the rates.

“No formal decision has been made to pay above the cap at this stage.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The caps are in place. There are exceptions – if there is a safety issue or they are not able to fill a shift, they are able to break that cap.”

The hospital said patients being seen in the corridor are being given the same care as those treated elsewhere.

A ‘corridor nurse’ was introduced to ease ‘pressures’ on the emergency department and to help reduce the amount of time it takes to handover patients from paramedics to casualty staff, the spokesman added.

One Blackpool mum, whose daughter was taken to A&E by ambulance on Thursday night after falling seriously ill, said: “There were trolleys all the way down the corridor.

“I saw the corridor nurse. The paramedic said she was treating the first five in the queue.

“There were screens up at the end of the corridor and people were being moved into them.

“They were juggling the trolleys about.”

The 49-year-old, of Lawson Road, continued: “The nurse was taking people’s blood pressure and putting cannulars in their arms.

“I arrived at 8pm and left at seven in the morning and I never saw her move from that post. She never stopped, she looked exhausted. The staff were doing the best they could.”

Governors at the Fylde and Wyre CCG, which funds healthcare for 152,000 people, including at 20 GP practices and the hospital, were told at a recent meeting the hospital is working to reduce the time it takes for patients to be handed over from the care of paramedics to casualty staff.

“Following an analysis exercise Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has placed a ‘corridor nurse’ into A&E to achieve the best possible standard of care for all patients accessing the department by ambulance,” papers read.

“The ambulance liaison officer continues to support by attending regular meetings, improving information sharing, and encouraging staff to complete the hand-over process.”

Although A&E was slightly over-staffed during the February, according to performance data released every month by the hospital, the average handover time from paramedics to staff was 24 minutes and six seconds, worse than any other hospital in Cumbria and Lancashire, NWAS figures showed.

The longest handover time is understood to be just under two hours.

Alongside other hospitals in the region, NWAS said time spent waiting equated to taking 33 ambulances off the road for a week.

A spokesman said: “We have seen an extreme rise in activity in recent months and there are no signs of this slowing down at present.

“The number of life-threatening calls the trust received in March increased by 41 per cent in the Lancashire area, compared to the same month last year.

“This undoubtedly means more patients are being taken to hospital which then creates high demand within emergency departments.

“In busy periods, patients with non-life-threatening conditions may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance response than we would like.”

The hospital trust spokesman said: “There are periods where we have individual ambulances waiting longer than we would like although these are the exceptions, and our average time year to date is under 30 minutes.

“Our ambulance turnaround times, like other trusts across the UK, has increased but we still remain one of the better performing trusts when comparing ourselves against the NWAS regional average.”

As reported in The Gazette yesterday, medical union GMB, which represents paramedics, said the delays were putting lives at risk.

In Lancashire, paramedics reached 66.1 per cent of ‘Red One’ patients – where their heart has stopped or they have stopped breathing – within the government target of eight minutes in February.

That’s below its yearly-average of 74.82 per cent and the Department of Health’s requirement of 75 per cent.

Regional organiser Lisa Ryan said: “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.”

Last week, the hospital was honoured for its work with the ambulance service, when it was handed a runners-up award in the Partnership of the Year category at the NWAS Going The Extra Mile Awards.