Ambulance chief’s stark warning for Warwickshire patients

Handover delays could see patients dying as we head into a winter like no other

An ambulance chief has warned of a looming ‘catastrophic failure’ that could see Warwickshire patients dying due to delays at hospitals.

The stark message came from Mark Docherty, a director with the West Midlands Ambulance Service, who admitted he had first flagged up the issues nine years ago.

And while Covid had increased the pressures in hospital emergency departments, he said the dire situation would have happened anyway with patients now waiting in ambulances for up to 14 hours.

Mr Docherty and communications director Murray MacGregor voiced their concerns at a meeting of Warwickshire County Council’s adult social care and health overview and scrutiny committee this week [WED].

Mr MacGregor began with an apology: “I think the first thing to say is that our performance in Warwickshire is not good enough. The figures are disappointing and that is mirrored right across the country at the moment.

“The good news is that Warwick Hospital and UHCW are perhaps not the worst offenders in the region but that doesn’t mean there is room for improvement.

“Last month as an ambulance service we lost 28,500 hours of ambulance time - time that we could have been responding to patients - with crews sitting outside hospitals. We have had crews sit outside for 14 hours waiting to hand over a patient.

“The impact that has on our ability to get to patients is enormous and perhaps it is not the patient in the back of the ambulance that’s the issue, it’s the one that we haven’t yet got to.”

Mr Docherty explained that he wrote a document nine years ago warning how ambulance handover delays were increasing and how that was going to impact on the service.

He said: “The alarm bells were ringing then and exactly what we thought would happen has happened. I think we have a catastrophic failure looming - and I don’t use those words lightly.

“It is almost certain that patients will die as a direct result of handover delays at hospital.

"There are many people who try to tell us to stop talking about this thing but I don’t think we can. It is really, really significant.

“Clearly we are in the ambulance service to help people. We don’t like getting to people late, we don’t like it when we turn up and the person is already deceased.

“For some people, Covid has been a useful excuse. Believe me, this is not due to Covid because otherwise I could not have predicted it nine years ago. Admittedly, in my view, Covid has probably accelerated the decline - it may have brought it forward a bit - but I don’t believe it wouldn’t have happened.

“We have a really difficult position now and we are heading into a winter that is probably going to be like no other winter we have known.”