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East Midlands Ambulance Service service faced ‘real challenge’ in December 2023 says health boss

December and the beginning of January has been “extremely challenging” for East Midlands Ambulance Service, its director of operations said.

The entire Nottinghamshire NHS is currently in a ‘critical incident’ — meaning hospitals are unable to cope with the rising numbers of patients coming through their emergency departments.

The pressure came as junior doctors who are part of the British Medical Association started a six-day walkout on January 3 in a dispute over pay.

East Midlands Ambulance Service.
East Midlands Ambulance Service.

The strike action ended on Yesterday morning, January 9, at 7am.

The ambulance service covers Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

Karen Tomlinson, service chairman, said hospital handovers in Nottingham have been a “particular challenge” partly due to the severe flooding.

At the service’s board meeting on January 9, Ben Holdaway, director of operations, said 17,163 hours were lost due to paramedics waiting outside hospitals to handover patients in December 2023.

This is an average of 584 hours a day.

The 17,163 lost hours is significantly higher than the 12,954 hours lost in November 2023.

However, Mr Holdaway pointed out that this was lower than the same period in 2022.

A total of 51.5 per cent of patients were taken to hospital in December, with 45.8 per cent being taken to A&E.

Mr Holdaway said: “December and certainly the beginning of January has been extremely challenging.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported in the delivery of our services.

“Hospitals have been a real challenge for us in December with 17,000 hours lost across the month.

“It is well over 150 hours more a day lost to delays than in November.

“Although that is lower than what we saw in December 2022, it is significantly higher than what we have seen earlier in the year.

“On the first day of the strikes, the delays were horrendous. It was back to December 2022 levels.

“However that improved as the days went on.”

Mr Holdaway also gave an update on national targets by the NHS and government for ambulance services to have a mean average response time for category two calls of 30 minutes for 2023/24.

The overall response time target remains at 18 minutes, which will be expected of all ambulance services by 2024/25.

Category one classified calls are emergencies involving people with the most serious life-threatening injuries and illnesses and category two is for other calls still classed as emergencies.

The trust is currently not achieving the target and in December 2023, the average response time for category two calls from EMAS was 56 minutes and 19 seconds.

East Midlands Ambulance Service.
East Midlands Ambulance Service.

But Mr Holdaway said this was significantly better than December 2022’s average of two hours and 16 minutes.

EMAS had set a trajectory of 55 minutes for the month of December for category two calls.

Mr Holdaway said: “It is not a bad result although still accepting 55 minutes is a long way from 18 minutes which is the national standard.”

He added: “We have confidence that when anything comes together we will deliver the 35 mins trajectory.”

Richard Henderson, chief executive, said: “I want to pay my respects to everybody across the organisation who have absolutely been doing their best in very challenged times.

“Handover delays have continued to be a challenge for us but we are working to ensure we can maximise our own resources.”

On category two calls, he added: “We have performed almost 60 per cent better in category two calls in December 2023 than in 2022.

“This is where it’s really important that where we can, we hold others to account to ensure we have continual improvement.”

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