Healthwatch Birmingham and Healthwatch Solihull statement on West Midlands Ambulance Service
Healthwatch Birmingham and Healthwatch Solihull is extremely concerned about the current situation at West Midlands Ambulance Service University NHS Foundation Trust (WMAS), as described by the trust’s Nursing Director Mark Docherty in Health Service Journal.
Mr. Docherty’s descriptions of lengthy waiting and handover times are consistent with the increase in feedback we have received in recent months. These include testimonials from the carers of elderly patients left waiting up to 11 hours for an ambulance to arrive. Patient safety is the most important consideration in health care, and it is shocking that after WMAS raised its risk rating to its highest level in October, response and handover times have deteriorated even further, with patients losing their lives as the service is stretched to breaking point.
Healthwatch Birmingham and Healthwatch Solihull will continue to monitor the feedback we receive from patients and call for immediate action to address these issues. We have raised the issue of ambulance waits and delays with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) as the major A&E acute trust in the Birmingham area. We are also in contact with WMAS through the West Midlands network of local Healthwatch, and will be seeking an urgent update on plans to minimise ambulance waits and delays in Emergency Departments, alongside ensuring discharges from hospital are working as effectively as possible under the circumstances.
We recognize, however, the extreme pressures WMAS, like many ambulance services in England, currently faces. We therefore support calls for extra immediate investment in ambulance services above and beyond the £150m already earmarked by NHS England.
While additional short-term funding may help to alleviate some of the current pressures on the service, sustained investment across the health and social care system will be required to tackle these issues in the long-term. As Mr. Docherty rightly identifies, delays in hospital discharge are impacting ambulance times – sometimes with sadly fatal results. Increasing the number of beds in social and community care so medically-fit patients are not occupying places in emergency departments must be an immediate priority for the new Integrated Care System. Healthwatch Birmingham and Healthwatch Solihull will work with our ICS partners on this issue, to help ensure that the incredible frontline staff at WMAS and local hospital trusts can deliver essential life-saving emergency care for anyone who needs it.