Covid causing 'real problems' with hospital ambulance handovers

Long queues of ambulances have been seen outside Ipswich hospital. Inset: ESNEFT chief executive Nick Hulme

Long queues of ambulances have been seen outside the A&E department at Ipswich hospital. Inset: ESNEFT chief executive Nick Hulme, who said there were still "real problems" with Covid at the hospital. - Credit: Warren Page/Pagepix/Contributed

High levels of Covid at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals are causing "real problems" in transferring patients off ambulances.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has set new targets for how quickly patients are handed over from ambulances into hospitals after long queues were pictured outside Ipswich emergency department recently.

At a recent Council of Governors meeting, bosses set the target of having no delays of more than 30 minutes by September.

Around 20 ambulances were observed queueing outside Ipswich hospital's A&E department on Wednesday.

Around 20 ambulances were observed queueing outside Ipswich hospital's A&E department recently. Chief Executive Nick Hulme says rising Covid cases are to blame. - Credit: Contributed

In the week to April 3, 28.8% of ambulances were delayed by more than 30 minutes.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of ESNEFT, said: "We've got real problems with ambulance handovers at the moment.

"It is not so much the volume of ambulances, but our ability to safely move people from A&E into a hospital bed.

"And that's being driven by the fact the hospital is pretty much full all the time.

Most Read

"The biggest challenge is that we've got very little flexibility around how we use our beds because of the very, very high numbers of patients with Covid."

For example, Mr Hulme said that if one patient in a bay tested positive for Covid, nobody else would be able to be moved into that bay.

"It's a logistical rather than a clinical challenge that we face," he said. "Although we're not seeing the levels of morbidity and mortality that we saw last year, we are still having real difficulties managing the flow of patients in the hospital."

Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of ESNEFT

Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of ESNEFT - Credit: PAGEPIX

NHS data shows that Ipswich and Colchester hospitals are currently treating 300 patients with Covid, but just one of them is on a ventilator.

He added that hospital stays are getting longer.

Mr Hulme said a "whole system" solution was required for these problems.

He added that this would include working to treat people away from hospitals and work out ways of discharging patients more quickly.

Recently Tom Abell, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, told this newspaper the ambulance service was "working closely" with hospitals to cut handover times by creating spaces where patients could be assessed before they were admitted to A&E.

But Mr Hulme added part of the solution lay in Covid rates dropping in the community.

"Covid is still very, very real in our world and in our lives," he said. "It is having an impact on our ability to deliver the level of care that we want to at the time that we want to."

He asked people to "respect the NHS as they have done so well during the pandemic".

"Bear with us a bit. We really are trying our very best," he added.

Long queues of ambulances were observed outside the A&E department at Ipswich hospital.

Long queues of ambulances were observed outside the A&E department at Ipswich hospital. - Credit: Contributed