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Emergency Care: Average Waiting Time

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2022

NHS Digital publishes information on average waiting times, and the data for May shows that the median average total time spent in A&E for all patients was three hours and six minutes.

Across the west midlands, 38 people died waiting for ambulances between March and May 2022. In the same period in 2021, two people died; before 2019, in the corresponding period, there were no deaths. A week ago Sunday, 80 people were waiting in accident and emergency in my constituency. What are the causes of these problems?

The west midlands is more affected than many regions of the ambulance service. There are a number of causes, the first of which is that we are living with covid, which has not disappeared. If we look at the in-patient rates, we see that they have increased significantly; last month, they were 17.9 per 100,000 and they are now up to 24.4 per 100,000 in the west midlands, which is experiencing significantly higher rates than other parts of the country. [Interruption.] If the shadow Secretary of State wants to hear this, I can tell him that we also have a significant number of staff sicknesses from covid; this time last year, it was about 4% of staff but when I spoke to some trusts this weekend I heard that it was up to 6%. That has a knock-on effect on acute and emergency services and ambulance services being able to respond.

Derek Taylor came to my surgery as his late wife Lynda had tragically passed away in Moses Gate country park while they were out walking together. The ambulance was unable to access the park due to barriers impeding entry, and he will never know whether Lynda’s life could have been saved. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that all public parks are accessible to ambulances in cases of emergency?

I am very sad to hear of the experience of my hon. Friend’s constituent and he is right to say that emergency services need to be able to access public areas. I am happy to talk to him about that afterwards to see what more can be done.

“24 hours in A&E” was a reality TV programme but now it appears to be the reality for far too many people. The zero tolerance standards on 12-hour A&E waits and 30-minute ambulance handover delays are being systematically and seriously breached. So when do the Government plan to achieve those standards, which were set and delivered by the Labour Government?

Let me place on record my thanks to all the ambulance staff up and down the country who have gone above and beyond in the past 24 to 48 hours to be able to respond to extreme pressures that are only really seen in winter times. Let me give a scale of the pressures they are under. Compared with the situation in May last year, there have been over 100,000 more calls to the ambulance service, and there were 2.1 million attendances at A&E departments in June, which is 3.6% higher than the figure for June 2019. So they are under incredible pressure, and I pay tribute to all of them doing their best.

One issue affecting waiting times in many acute hospitals is the fact that so many people could be in community hospitals instead. In my constituency, I have a bid in to replace Shotley Bridge Community Hospital, doubling the capacity to 16 beds from the current eight. However, this is not under way just yet, as a few more hoops need to be jumped through. Will the Minister or Secretary of State come on a visit with me to North West Durham to see what more we can do to speed through the replacement hospital for Shotley Bridge as quickly as possible, to help ease some of the issues in our acute hospitals?

My hon. Friend is right; the delayed discharges and being able to free up those beds has a knock-on effect on A&E, which in turn has a knock-on effect on ambulances being able to unload. We have the £2 billion better care fund, which is supposed to be addressing just that, to help integrated care boards deliver and help patients get out of hospital. I have a meeting with all the integrated care boards tomorrow, so his is a timely question, but I am happy to meet him as well.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. A&E waiting times are through the roof, and we have people waiting without a bed—not even a trolley. This is removing the dignity that every patient deserves, but, sadly, it is not a one-off; this is commonplace up and down the country. It is not the Health Secretary who is on the receiving end of it, but staff, who are running from patient to patient trying to ease pain, diagnose illness and save lives—most importantly, it is of course the most vulnerable themselves. When the Minister hears reports such as this, does she not feel ashamed of the decisions her Government have made over the past 12 years?

I say gently to the hon. Lady, who does amazing work on the frontline in A&E, that I have worked in A&E under the last Labour Government—I am showing my age now—and there were trolley waits and ambulance queues then as well, just as there are in Wales, where Labour is running the NHS, and in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. This is unprecedented pressure, because we are trying to live with covid and deal with a backlog of procedures and rising cases. The shadow Secretary of State was not here yesterday, so he may have missed some of the support that we are putting in. We are putting £150 million of extra funding into the ambulance service, £50 million into 111 to increase capacity, and £30 million into an auxiliary ambulance service to increase support. We are supporting the service, but we must recognise that it is facing unprecedented pressures.

With respect, I will take no lectures from the Minister about working in A&E under a Labour Government and a Conservative Government. I have worked in the NHS under a Labour Government, when NHS waiting times hit record lows, and I have worked under a Tory Government, when NHS waiting lists hit record highs.

The Minister can use the pandemic, the heatwave, or even winter as justification. I have seen that emergencies do increase demand for services, but there is no excuse for not hitting the four-hour A&E waiting target for seven years. There is no defence for stroke and heart-attack victims waiting almost an hour for an ambulance. Undoubtedly, lives will be lost that could have been saved. Will the Minister apologise for those failings?

The hon. Lady says there is no excuse for missing those waiting times, but perhaps she can explain why the Labour Government in Wales are also missing those times.