Wait Times For Ambulances Putting Lives At Risk

It’s the worst nightmare isn’t it? You or a loved one suffers an injury and urgently need an ambulance. You make the emergency 999 call and wait…and wait…and wait. Meanwhile, you or your loved one’s condition is getting worse.

Sadly, reports this week show that patients amongst the most seriously ill and injured are waiting more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive in England and Wales and we have to consider why and how this is happening.

Ambulance waiting times

A BBC investigation has shown that the problems are affecting one in 16 “emergency” cases in England. Experts have voiced their concerns that the delays in ambulances arriving is putting lives at risk.

Bosses of the NHS say that the rising demand and delays in handing over patients at Accident and Emergency is to blame. Ambulance crews are facing queues outside hospitals, which means that they simply can’t move on to the next call until the current patient has been handed over to the hospital team.

The BBC investigation asked for data under the Freedom of Information Act and specifically asked for the two highest priority groups of 999 calls – immediately life-threatening and emergency category two cases.

A category two emergency includes:

  • Heart attack
  • Serious injury/trauma
  • Stroke
  • Possible blood poisoning
  • Major burns
  • Fits

As you can see from the list of emergencies included in category two, time is very much of the essence when it comes to accessing treatment in these situations. Therefore, the reports of delays at the very outset in getting patients to hospital is incredibly worrying.

The figures showed that long waits for immediately life-threatening cases at just one in 270 cases is taking longer than 30 minutes to reach the patient.

However, the records for category two call logs show a more worrying picture with long waits for this category of emergencies being much more common. The BBC reports that the data showed there were 385,000 waits of more than an hour from January 2018 to September 2019. This is more than 4,000 incidents a week, on average.

The data shows that East Midlands Ambulance Service had the greatest number of long delays with calls. Their statistics show that as many as one in eight calls took over an hour for the ambulance to arrive.

In response to the investigation, the Department of Health and Social Care in England said that the Government was increasing funding for the health service and has set aside a dedicated pot of money to invest specifically into ambulance services.


Of course, it is well known that the NHS is under significant pressures across the board, but these statistics highlight just what impact this can have. A seriously ill patient cannot afford to suffer lengthy delays in getting to hospital. It must be of the highest priority for Trusts and the Government to push forward with plans to increase staff numbers and relieve the pressures which are clearly currently having such a detrimental and potentially life-threatening effect.

Ambulance waiting timesHow can Nelsons help?

Danielle Young is an Associate in our Medical Negligence team.

If you have any questions in relation to the subjects discussed in this article, then please get in touch with Danielle or another member of the team in DerbyLeicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.

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