Patient handover delays rise to more than an hour

A Yorkshire Ambulance Service ambulance. Photo: Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

Patient handover delays at an emergency department in North Yorkshire have risen to more than four times the national target, ambulance bosses have said.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) officials also told the county’s Scutiny of Health committee despite an improvement in its emergency response times, latest figures showed the service remained minutes off achieving the national target.

The meeting at County Hall in Northallerton heard all English ambulance services had been set a target average response time of less than 30 minutes for category 2 patients.

Category 2 ambulance calls are those that are classed as an emergency or a potentially serious condition that may require rapid assessment, urgent on-scene intervention or urgent transport.

The average category 2 response time for YAS for 2023/24 was 32 minutes and 32 seconds.

The meeting heard while pressures across the health and social care system were contributing to the hospital handover delays, YAS remained concerned about the “significant impact this has on the availability of emergency ambulances and on patient care”.

Councillors were told the national target average handover time was 15 minutes, but at Scarborough Hospital for 2023/24 was 44 minutes and four seconds, meaning an average of 28 ambulance hours per day were lost due to delayed handovers.

YAS managers said the delays had continued in April where the average handover times had risen to an hour and two minutes at Scarborough, 53 minutes and 41 seconds at York and 24 minutes and 29 seconds at Harrogate.

To improve matters, the meeting was told, YAS was increasingly providing advice over the phone instead of dispatching ambulances under its Hear and Treat scheme and increasing staffing.

In addition, the meeting heard its ambition to build a new ambulance station in Scarborough was unlikely to be realised in the near future unless additional funding could be secured.

The site had cost about £500,000, councillors were told, and the projected cost to build had initially been about £7m, a £5m bill to clear the site and a 60 per cent hike in costs had emerged.

Councillors heard while YAS had not provided the committee with information about ambulances being held up at other hospitals serving North Yorkshire, such as James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, Darlington Memorial and Airedale Hospital, in Steeton, those sites were experiencing significant and frequent patient transfer delays.

The meeting was told there was plenty of ambulance staff, but a shortage of vehicles, resulting in “back-filling”, where ambulances are moved into neighbouring areas, leading to a reliance on voluntary services in North Yorkshire’s vast rural areas.

Great Ayton councillor Heather Moorhouse said patients in her area were frequently unsure about whether they would be better off arranging their own transport to hospital or wait for an ambulance to arrive.

She added there were times when patients were reliant on air ambulances.

Coun Moorhouse, whose division includes the North York Moors, said: “This is really frightening because this is life or death.”