Did the pandemic really cause ambulances to queue outside hospitals?

Ambulances

Delayed patient handovers from ambulances were up 40 per cent overall at Stevenage's Lister Hospital. - Credit: EEAST

The end of 2020 saw coronavirus cases begin to rise at a high rate and put a strain on hospitals, which saw record numbers of patients.

For example Stevenage's Lister Hospital had 80 hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 on December 23 -  at the time the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.

A freedom of information request from this paper reveals how the pandemic has impacted patient handovers from ambulances to Lister Hospital.

In the last three months of 2019 there were a total of 1,133 delayed patient handovers from ambulances to Lister Hospital, but for the same months in 2020 there were 1,590 delayed handovers, an increase of 40.3 per cent.

The figures for the delays for each month in 2019 are: October - 231, November - 396 and December - 506.

The figures for the delays for each month in 2020 are: October - 383, November - 549 and December - 658.

However it is not just the volume of delayed patient handovers that have increased but also the number of delays that took more than 60 minutes, which increased by more than 100 per cent.

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Between October and December 2019 there were 228 number of delayed patient handovers which took more than 60 minutes to complete, for 2020 that figure grew to 483 - a 111.8 per cent increase.

Julie Smith, chief operating officer for East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, said: “As part of our commitment to provide high-quality care for our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have created a new handover process for those who arrive at Lister Hospital by ambulance.

“This includes assessing every patient to determine whether they should be directed to our separate emergency department for those who have COVID-19 or are highly suspected of having the virus. This takes time and means there is less space within each department, contributing to delays.

“We will continue to do all we can to ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible – without compromising on safety.”

There are a number of factors as to why delayed patient handovers have increased, such as high case numbers combined with staff absences due to the virus.

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