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Patients left in ambulances so hospitals can meet targets.

Byline: VICTORIA FARNCOMBE

Lives in the West Midlands are being put at risk by patients being left for hours in ambulances outside accident and emergency departments, an expert revealed.

Hospitals are deliberately delaying when they accept patients or are diverting them to different sites to meet Government targets to treat people within four hours of admitting them.

In letters obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Sir Graham Meldrum, chairman of West Midlands Ambulance Trust, warned hospital chief executives last November that patients were "put at risk on a daily basis" by "constant prolonged delays", with 7,600 patients a month facing delays of more than 30 minutes - a situation which has since deteriorated, with more than 8,000 such delays in March.

It was also revealed that an investigation was called into the death of a patient who waited three hours to be seen after being taken by ambulance to The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust.

In a six-month period, hospitals in the West Midlands ordered a "divert" on more than 450 occasions, closing A& E units to all 999 arrivals for hours at a time.

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: "We are hearing increasing numbers of stories of seriouslyill patients lying in pain in ambulances, worried out of their mind, while others are taken on long journeys because casualty units have been closed. The guidance may say they should not be delayed, but the A& E target is the one that comes with financial penalties attached, and it is the one hospitals care about." A spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Trust said last night they were "working very hard with hospitals and Primary Care Trusts in the region to find solutions" and were adopting robust measures to control to minimise the impact of hospital delays.

These include setting escalation figures which must be met before hospitals can divert patients to other units. In addition, hospitals must undertake actions, such as cancelling elective surgeries, before even considering diverting patients to another hospital.

Secondly, hospitals wanting to divert patients should first check with the proposed alternative A& E department to ensure the problem is not mirrored there.

Thirdly, all diverts must be signed off and approved at a director level between the acute Trust and West Midlands Ambulance Service..

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A& E delays are leading to deaths, says Sir Graham Meldrum, chairman of West Midlands Ambulance Trust
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:399
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