The number of calls for an ambulance in England has almost doubled since 2010, with warnings of record pressures on the NHS that see A&E patients stuck in corridors and many paramedics quitting their jobs.
Ambulance calls have increased 10 times more than the number of paramedics, according to a new analysis of NHS data. A rise in the number of people seeking emergency treatment, GPs unable to keep up with demand and cuts in preventive care are all to blame for these figures.
The analysis, carried out by the GMB union, found that there were 7.9 million calls in 2010-2011. By 2021-22, however, the number had risen to 14 million, a 77% increase. During the same period, the number of paramedics only increased by 7%, which increased the pressure on the staff.
While the figures represent all calls for an ambulance, some of which go unanswered and do not result in a vehicle being dispatched, they reveal the growing pressures that have led to claims that patient safety is being put at risk by ambulance wait times. There has been a significant increase in the number of the most serious safety incidents recorded by paramedics in England over the past year.
Paramedics will hold a protest on Sunday outside the GMB’s annual conference, which begins in Harrogate. There have been repeated warnings that cuts to social care are also having repercussions, with emergency services often taking over and caring for patients in crisis.
The average response time for serious ambulance calls was 51 minutes in April 2022 compared to 20 minutes a year earlier. Meanwhile, the GMB said more than 1,000 paramedics had left since 2018 to seek better work-life balance, better pay or to take early retirement.
Paul, a paramedic and assistant secretary for the GMB branch, said he recently saw a team wait almost 10 hours between arriving at hospital and transferring a patient to hospital care. “They arrived at the hospital at 8:31 p.m.,” he said. “They then left the hospital at 05:48 a.m. The impact of the lack of resources is affecting the ambulance service.
“We also see people becoming aggressive towards the ambulance crew, as they have waited for hours and hours in an ambulance.
“We used to have crew members who we called ‘lifers’ – you join and you stay there for the rest of your life until you retire. But now we see people doing two or three years and then moving on to better jobs – maybe becoming a GP or becoming a university professor. There are no nights, no weekends; you are in a pleasant and clean environment.”
It comes after a nurse was filmed warning patients in an overcrowded A&E ward that they could wait until 1pm to see a doctor.
GMB national officer Rachel Harrison said paramedics had faced “more than a decade of cuts”. She said: ‘It’s no wonder they are leaving in droves when the service itself is on the verge of collapse. The explosion in demand is due to the brutal cuts in essential services since 2010.
“Cuts to preventative and community care are leading to increased demand for emergency services, including mental health. This means that patients enter the system later and with more complex symptoms. Some people have also used less hospital care during the pandemic and have not received essential treatment, leading to significant pent-up demand weighing on paramedics.
“Our members face incredible stress and even abuse as they do their best to provide care and save lives. We need urgent investment in health and care services, otherwise we risk an unprecedented crisis. »
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it recognized the pressures faced by staff, with paramedics at the forefront. “Response times are affected by a variety of factors, so we take a whole-system approach,” they said.
“The NHS has allocated £150m of extra funding to the system to deal with pressure on ambulance services, and we are tackling the Covid backlog by setting up surgical centers and diagnostic centers community – more than 90 of which are already open and have delivered more than a million additional checks.
“NHS staff received a 3% pay rise last year, raising nurses’ pay by around £1,000 on average despite a public sector pay freeze, and we are giving NHS workers another salary increase this year.