Four in 10 seriously ill patients are being left waiting for too long because paramedics are tied up elsewhere.
Government targets dictate ambulances should reach ‘red’ calls – in cases of cardiac arrest or where breathing has stopped – within eight minutes 75 per cent of the time.
But figures released by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), which was last week told to improve by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), show it only managed to beat the clock 63 per cent of the time in November.
That figure has rocketed by almost 10 per cent since 2012 and has been branded ‘disgraceful’ by union GMB, while NWAS blamed the rise on a hike in demand and lengthy handover times at A&E.
“These disgraceful figures clearly show Tory tactics of under-funding and privatising the NHS are putting lives in danger,” Paul McCarthy, the union’s regional director said.
“GMB members put their heart and soul into the life-saving work they do for our health service. But the Conservatives are cutting their feet out from under them – and the result is dying patients are left with a desperately long wait for emergency care.”
The Gazette has previously revealed a shortage of paramedics, with service bosses scouring the globe for replacements, and a reliance on private ambulances to cope with a rise in demand.
Firefighters in Manchester have also been asked to turn out to cardiac arrests within three miles of their station.
A spokesman for NWAS said: “The trust has experienced significant delivery challenges in dealing with the general 999 demand over the December, festive and January period. The operating environment over recent weeks has been among the most difficult on record.
“Despite this, our staff have worked extremely hard to reach patients as quickly as possible and have continued to demonstrate the caring and compassionate qualities recognised by the CQC in their recent report.
“The challenge has been two fold: Firstly, the increase in 999 calls; and secondly, the major ambulance delays experienced while handing over patients at the hospitals across the region.
“Year to date the Trust has recorded 999 activity increases in excess of seven per cent overall against the previous year with a more than 10 per cent increase in high acuity patients.
“Operational performance has fallen below the required standard across the region with ambulance trusts around the country struggling to meet standards.
“The average handover time at hospital has increased with a 10 minute average increase, per case when compared with 2015/16.
“This however masks long delays in handovers, many of which have been in excess of four hours with the real exceptions being nine hours plus.
“This delay adversely affects the trust’s ability to provide a timely response to patients waiting in the community.
“The trust strives to reach all patients as quickly as possible but is aware of a number of delays to patients in the community and we absolutely agree that long waits for urgent cases are unacceptable and are extremely frustrating for our staff.
“We would like to assure the public that we are doing all we can with our NHS colleagues to overcome these challenges.”
SISTER ‘ABSOLUTELY APPALLED’ AT BROTHER’S WAIT
St Annes woman Rosaline Fox, 66, said she was ‘absolutely appalled’ by the way her brother was let down.
She criticised NWAS after Richard Hansbury bled to death after a two-and-a-half-hour delay in getting him to hospital after a fall.
The 65-year-old was found in his sheltered accomodation flat in Wigan by neighbours who heard his cries for help.
He was bleeding heavily from a wound to his head and, despite the 999 call being categorised as ‘red’, meaning paramedics should have been with him within eight minutes, it was over an hour before they arrived, the Daily Mail reported.
They treated Mr Hansbury, who weighed 19 stone, but had to call for help from another crew to help them lift him into an ambulance so he could be taken to hospital, a short distance away.
But no other crew was available, meaning it was two hours and 42 minutes after the first 999 call before Mr Hansbury got to hospital.
By then, his blood pressure had dropped to a dangerously low level due to blood loss, it was reported. The father-of-two suffered three heart attacks and died less than three hours later.
Ms Fox, a retired district nurse, said: “It’s barbaric that Richard died that way.
“The bottom line is that if the ambulance service had arrived in any sort of reasonable time my brother would still be alive today.”
A spokesman for NWAS said an investigation was underway.
He added: “We’re very sorry to hear about Mr Hansbury’s death.
“We can confirm that at the time of the incident, the trust was experiencing a high demand for its services.”