UNPRECEDENTED numbers of seriously unwell people mean some patients are facing long waits when they arrive at Bradford hospitals by ambulance 

New data from NHS England, for the week to Sunday, December 11, puts a spotlight on the pressures facing the health service.

Yesterday, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service declared a 'critical incident' amid high levels of demand, significant delays in patients waiting for an ambulance and delays in handing over patients at hospitals. 

More than 20 people waited in an ambulance for at least 60 minutes when they arrived at Bradford Royal Infirmary’s A&E - despite NHS targets stating all handovers should be completed in less than an hour.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Bradford Royal Infirmary A&EBradford Royal Infirmary A&E (Image: Newsquest)

It comes as ambulance workers are set to strike today in a dispute over pay, with people urged to only call 999 in a life-threatening situation.

NHS England figures show 22 patients waited in an ambulance for at least one hour when they arrived at BRI's A&E in the week to December 11 – up from 20 the week before.

At Airedale Hospital one patient waited in an ambulance for at least an hour, in line with the week before.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Ambulances at Airedale HospitalAmbulances at Airedale Hospital (Image: Newsquest)

A further 42 patients at BRI were forced to wait between 30 minutes and one hour, meaning eight per cent of the 762 ambulance arrivals were delayed by half an hour or more.

At Airedale, 16 patients waited between 30 minutes and an hour, meaning six per cent of the 307 ambulance arrivals were delayed by half an hour or more.

NHS targets state trusts should complete 95 per cent of all ambulance handovers in 30 minutes - with all conducted in less than one hour.

Nick Smith, executive director of operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: “All NHS trusts are experiencing a protracted period of operational pressures and this has been exacerbated by handover delays at a number of busy hospitals across the region.

“We are continuing to work closely with our partners to address this issue, as well as reduce waiting times for those needing an emergency ambulance response in our communities.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely and thank all our hard-working staff and volunteers for their efforts at this challenging time.”

A statement on behalf of both Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Airedale NHS Foundation Trust said: "Our A&E teams work extremely hard to minimise ambulance handover delays.

"While we try our hardest to ensure prompt handovers, there are unprecedented numbers of acutely unwell people arriving at our Emergency Departments, and this can very occasionally cause handover delays.

"While our Emergency Departments remain busy we remind people that if you need medical help or advice, please go to www.111.nhs.uk unless it is a life-threatening emergency when you should still call 999."

Around 25,000 handover delays of half an hour or longer were recorded across all hospital trusts in the week of December 5, according to NHS England.

It meant a record 34 per cent of all arrivals by ambulance were postponed by more than 30 minutes – up from 31 per cent the previous week.

Meanwhile 12,500 patients - 17 per cent - had to wait more than an hour to be handed over, also a record.

A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance as they could have been moved into an A&E department, but the handover was not completed.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive at NHS Providers, said Trust leaders are concerned that unfolding strike action and extremely cold weather “will add even more pressure to overstretched services”.

At Yorkshire Ambulance Service, 4,000 out of 7,000 staff are set to go on strike today.

GMB union members will take industrial action today and Wednesday, December 28, for 24 hours, between midnight and midnight. This will affect all services.

UNISON members are planning to take action today for 12 hours from midday to midnight, affecting A&E operations only.

Significant delays are expected and members of the public are being urged to only dial 999 for life-threatening conditions or injuries.

Mr Smith said: “With continued operational pressures and the added challenge of industrial action, we will have fewer resources available to respond.

“Services will be severely disrupted, with the likelihood of significant delays.

“So, we are urging the public to use the emergency ambulance service more wisely and only to call 999 when someone is in a life-threatening or very serious condition as we prioritise our response to those most in need.

“Ambulances will still be able to respond during the strike, but this will only be where there is an immediate risk to life.

“Less serious calls will not receive a response for the duration of the strike action and some patients might be asked to make their own way to hospital, where it is safe for them to do so.”

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