Patients forced to wait in ambulances for five hours after 999 call surge

Ambulances queue up outside Leicester Royal Infirmary on Friday night (Image: LeicesterMercury/ WS)

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Twenty ambulances were stuck outside a hospital waiting to get in during a surge in 999 calls.

Paramedics have implored people only to call the emergency line in life-threatening or critical situations after the spike in demand.

The surge led to patients being stuck for hours in ambulances outside the Leicester Royal Infirmary on Friday night.

At one point around 20 ambulances were waiting to get patients into the hospital that night – leaving some stuck in the back of the emergency vehicles for more than five hours, according to under-pressure paramedics.

It is understood that the normal winter pressures on the NHS as well as the extra burden of coronavirus has pushed services to crisis-point, reports Leicestershire Live.

The East Midlands Ambulance Service this weekend enacted a call divert, which is still in place, to try to send patients to other hospitals where possible.

A spike in 999 calls this weekend put pressure on the hospital (file photo)
(Image: Leicester Mercury / Chris Gordon)

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One paramedic wrote about the situation on social media saying: “It soon became a 5-hour wait on the back of ambulances. Imagine your loved one sat on the back of an ambulance for that long.

“Next time you ring 999, think, do you REALLY need an ambulance?”

An NHS staff member at the LRI told LeicestershireLive: “I can’t remember it ever being that busy before.

"Ambulances were diverted between 1 and 4, I can’t think of a time we’ve ever had to turn patients away.

“We were told ITU was at capacity.

"Last winter was bad, none of us have any idea how bad things might get this year because of the normal winter pressures and Covid.

"Hopefully the government will see this and understand that it cannot carry on.

“Ambulances queuing outside, no beds inside and the added pressures of knowing some of those people have Covid or symptoms of Covid.

Hospital bosses say plans are in place for spikes in demand
(Image: Leicester Mercury / Chris Gordon)

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“We’ll be here whatever happens and treating all those we can, we’re doing our bit, we need them to do theirs.”

She added: "All of this against the backdrop of Clap for Carers and not as many non-Covid patients in May was one thing.

“We’re now back to record A&E attendances and staff who have already been through this once.”

According to Leicestershire Live, sources claim people struggling to get a GP appointment when they fall ill are instead calling 999.

Yesterday, EMAS said it was experiencing a ‘high volume of calls’ and urged people to use the NHS 111 number to get advice on care before calling them.

EMAS strategic commander John Wright said: “There has been an increase in the demand on our service, with the number of calls we responded to in October being similar to levels from December last year.

“The number of calls from patients reporting Covid-19 symptoms has increased since August; however, we are also receiving calls from people who are very poorly because of a serious injury or a different illness.

The Leicester Royal Infirmary
(Image: Leicester Mercury / Chris Gordon)

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“To ensure patients receive the right care in the right place, our ambulance clinicians continue to see and treat many patients in their own home, without the need to take them to hospital.

"This also supports the busy emergency hospital departments to see patients who really need their care.

“To help us help you, it’s vital that we all play our part when it comes to the national restrictions and if you think you have symptoms please follow the national guidelines.

“When it comes to other illnesses or injury, it’s helpful when people seek early advice from their general practitioner, or NHS111 if they’re not sure where to go, so they can get treatment before their condition becomes serious."

A spokesperson for Leicester's Hospitals said: "Each winter, healthcare systems face increased demand for services and this year, we have the added complexities and challenges of managing the care of patients with Covid-19.

"The end of last week was particularly busy at Leicester’s Hospitals with large numbers of patients with complex illnesses needing our care.

"Unfortunately this meant delays for some patients in being seen in the Emergency Department, including for some arriving by ambulance. We are sorry to anyone who was affected by this.

"Patient safety is our priority and our staff work incredibly hard to ensure the best possible care despite the challenging circumstances. Any patients waiting are regularly assessed and people are seen according to clinical priority.

"We have escalation plans and processes in place to support us when we need them, including working with system and regional partners to ensure patients are seen as safely and quickly as possible."

The hospital urged people to call NHS 111 for clinical advice and only use A&Es for potentially life-threatening emergencies and very serious conditions.

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