Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust admits it is missing ambulance handover targets

A North East NHS trust has admitted it is failing to hit targets around ambulance handover times.
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Ambulance handover delays occur when there are not enough beds in a hospital to transfer a patient to, which can result in long waits in a queue of vehicles at hospital.

NHS England’s long term plan for the health service has set out a vision to eliminate delays due to the risk posed in postponing key assessment and treatment for those left waiting.

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Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust aimed to complete 65% of handovers within 15 minutes and 95% within 30 minutes. However, the trust’s latest quality accounts showed that just 26.7% of handovers were done within 15 minutes, while 64.7% were done within half an hour.

A North East Ambulance Service ambulance. Photo: NEAS.A North East Ambulance Service ambulance. Photo: NEAS.
A North East Ambulance Service ambulance. Photo: NEAS.

A report presented to members of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee pointed out that December 2023 was a “particularly difficult” month for the trust.

Rachel Carter, director of patient safety, said the situation was unlikely to change.

She added: “We haven’t achieved what we set out to do over that time. Part of that has been very much about increased attendances and patients needing admission relating to a backlog of flow throughout the system.

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“We have found this extremely challenging but nevertheless there is some extremely good work going on in ED (emergency departments) and working with colleagues from NEAS (North East Ambulance Service) to try and improve this because we know it is never good for patients to wait in ambulances to be seen.

Cllr Georgina Hill.Cllr Georgina Hill.
Cllr Georgina Hill.

The NHS boss added that it was proposed to remove the objective from the trust’s list of priorities, as it had been on for the last two years. However, she added: “That’s not to take away any focus."

The ambulance handover targets were the only ones rated as not met by the trust’s annual quality report. Elsewhere, targets around medication errors for patients with Parkinson’s Disease had been partially met, while targets around cancer pathways were either partially or fully met.

Committee member Coun Georgina Hill said the handover targets were “disappointing”.

She added: “Every time we get these accounts the same picture emerges – not hitting targets, below standards – but the good news is, if you can call it good news, there is others performing worse.”