Emergency patients have been left stranded in ambulances for over two hours outside Birmingham A&Es as bed-blocking and winter pressures reach crisis point.
A total of 339 ambulances were left queuing at hospitals on just one day across the region, new reports show.
The worst affected were Solihull Hospital, Sutton Coldfield’s Good Hope Hospital and Bordesley Green’s Heartlands Hospital, which is already on an official warning over taking too long to see emergency patients in A&E for the past three winters.
The situation was so bad that the West Midlands accounted for more than half of all ambulance turnaround delays - the time to drop off a patient with a medic and leave - in the UK on November 2. It comes as bed-blocking in the region, when mainly elderly healthy patients take up a hospital bed because social workers have not found them anywhere to go, is ranked the worst in the country of 16.5 per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 9.1.
Birmingham City Council is already carrying out an inquiry into the issue as costs are spiralling. Phil Milligan, performance director for NHS West Midlands health authority, said there were 121 ambulances queuing at least 30 minutes at Heart of England Trust, in charge of Heartlands, Good Hope and Solihull hospitals, with one patient waiting more than two hours to get into A&E and 15 patients stranded between one and two hours.
New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton had 44 ambulances queuing with five between one and two hours. “The daily report shows eight hospitals with significant numbers of ambulances with turnarounds between 30 and 60 minutes,” said Mr Milligan. “While Heart of England Foundation Trust and Wolverhampton’s New Cross had turnarounds of over an hour.”
Claire Thomas, spokeswoman for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said reasons for long waits were because hospital bosses were struggling to find beds for patients.
“On the morning of November 2, capacity issues were flagged up by several hospitals who were already short of beds for patients,” said Miss Thomas.
“This did lead to longer turnaround times for the ambulance service. Many of the hospitals that were under pressure experienced significant increases in patient numbers taken there by the ambulance service.
“There were 1,488 patients taken to hospital on November 2, which was 9.5 per cent more people than predicted but not considered exceptional.”
At hospitals run by Heart of England, Heartlands Hospital received 8.6 per cent more patients, Solihull had a surge of 62 per cent and Good Hope coped with a 27 per cent increase.
New Cross Hospital struggled with a 37 per cent increase in patients.
Charlotte Calder, Heartlands Hospital spokeswoman, said: “As one of the busiest groups of hospitals in the region, we continually receive more ambulances than any other hospital in Birmingham.
“Our medical teams are working hard with ambulance colleagues to ensure that all handovers are as fast and as safe as possible. We recognise that during very busy periods when we can see up to 10 to 15 ambulances arriving every hour to our hospitals, some ambulances wait longer than we would want.”
New schemes to speed up waits are being trialed at Heart of England including using the same IT systems as paramedics so hand-overs can be done electronically.
Figures show that from April to October, the two worst Trusts for ambulances waiting longer than an hour to drop off patients and leave were Heart of England and University Hospital Birmingham, in charge of the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital.