Paramedics spent more than 27,500 hours waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients last month – the highest number on record for East Midlands Ambulance Service.
An average of 888 shift-hours a day were lost in December 2022, equivalent to 74 twelve-hour shifts a day.
The figures were discussed by senior managers during an East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) board meeting today (January 10).
The pressures mean EMAS “is not currently delivering consistently safe services”, according to the Director of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, Nichola Bramhall.
The service covers Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.
Nationally, soaring winter pressures on available beds have seen ambulances queueing outside hospitals during long waits to hand over patients.
This is largely due to patient flow problems through hospitals where there are often hundreds of patients who are medically fit for discharge but cannot leave because there is no space for them in the social care system.
The whole Nottinghamshire NHS was put under ‘critical incident’ status in December due to the increasing demand.
Chair of EMAS Karen Tomlinson said the lost hours had a “phenomenal impact”.
In September 2022, 14,800 hours were lost to handover delays, which EMAS said was a record at the time.
Ben Holdaway, Director of Operations at EMAS, said during the meeting: “I said in the October board meeting that we’d broken all records.
“We then [in December] went and smashed that record to a degree I never thought we’d see.”
He said pressures were seen across the whole hospital network, apart from King’s Mill and Chesterfield.
Members of the GMB union who work for the trust are due to strike tomorrow (January 11) but the EMAS Chief Executive Richard Henderson said they would “continue to provide a response to acutely ill patients”.
Mr Henderson added EMAS “cannot deliver a normal service” given the “phenomenal amount of lost hours”.
But he added that “things are starting to improve post the New Year period”.
He said: “This isn’t just an ambulance or front door hospital problem, it’s all related to flow through the hospitals.
“We are the flashing beacon in the community and when all of this is stacked up, we can’t get to our patients.
“It’s understood that the frustration for our front-line workforce is the fact that they are not able to consistently perform the duties they are here to do.
“There are many incidences where they are spending hours with patients in the back of an ambulance which is not a skill they are trained to perform.
“They know at the same time there are more calls in the community and they are not able to go to those patients. That is the one most significant issue impacting their welfare and well-being. It has a ripple effect.
“They are not getting home and finishing duties in a timely manner.
“It is a very complex issue which we can’t fix on our own.”
Ms Tomlinson said the figures showed “the stark reality of what’s happening”.
She said: “In December we almost doubled our lost hours compared to previous figures.
“That’s a phenomenal impact. In terms of the pressure on the system, the risk to our patients and the industrial action, I think as a board we cannot lose sight of the seriousness of the impact this is having on the NHS.
“We need to hang on in there and give as much support to staff as we can at this very difficult time that the NHS and EMAS are facing.”
The board meeting’s papers stated that four ‘Serious Incidents’ were reported in December relating to delayed responses or prolonged waits for an ambulance.
But Ms Bramhall, Director of Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, said the number is likely to “significantly increase” due to pressures seen in December.