MORE than 1,000 patients have waited 30 minutes or more in an ambulance outside A&E departments that serve the Woking area so far this winter.
Paramedics have been facing significant delays in handing over their patients at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey and Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.
At St Peter’s in the last week of December, 594 people were held in ambulances for up to an hour. Of these, 144 waited at least an hour to be transferred to the care of A&E staff.
Delays at the Royal Surrey meant 543 patients waited between half an hour and an hour, 103 for more than an hour.
The statistics, the latest available from the NHS, were revealed by Woking Liberal Democrats, who say hospitals in the area are also suffering from dangerously high bed occupancy rates.
Lib Dem county and borough councillor Will Forster commented: “I think these figures show the NHS crisis in Surrey is worsening. Over a thousand patients are being left stuck in ambulances outside our local A&Es while several hospitals are suffering from a severe lack of beds.
“Every ambulance stuck outside an A&E department could well be needed by another patient waiting desperately at home for help.
“Each day seems to bring yet more bad news about the state of the health service, the blame for this lies firmly at the Government’s door.”
The Unite union, which represents paramedics and ambulance technicians in South East Coast Ambulance Service, is also alarmed by the increasing pressures being faced by the NHS.
The union’s regional officer, Chris Gray, told the News & Mail: “We are finding the crisis is getting worse every year. It’s clearly a funding issue, despite what the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says.
“Ambulance crews can’t leave their patients at an A&E until they have been handed over to a nurse or doctor. The problem is caused by emergency departments becoming full because hospitals have no beds for patients to be moved on to.
“They say they plan for the winter every year but they don’t find the resources and funds to do this properly.”
Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s director of operations, Tom Smerdon, said in a statement last Friday: “Over the last week we have seen higher than ever A&E attendances, which has put huge pressure on the rest of the hospital.
“For example, on Wednesday we saw 320 people in the emergency department whereas we would usually expect to see around 290 at this time of year.
“Admissions have been high throughout December, with a further 15% increase in patients admitted to hospital since Christmas. We are also noticing that people are sicker than usual, which means they need to stay in hospital for longer.
“Despite this, our staff are working incredibly hard to make sure everyone who needs urgent medical treatment is seen and we certainly don’t turn anyone away.
“We would remind people that A&E is for emergencies only. There are other places providing urgent care, such as GP surgeries, that might be more appropriate and we would encourage people to think carefully about choosing the right service if they need medical help.”