More than 500 critically ill patients died last year because they could not be treated in hospital after they called an ambulance and it took 15 hours to reach them, an investigation by the Guardian has revealed.

Those who died included those who had a stroke or heart attack or suffered sudden respiratory arrest or were involved in a road traffic accident. In each case, the ambulance crew took longer than the NHS target time for emergency response.

According to the results of investigations by NHS ambulance trusts and coroners, at least 511 people died in England in such circumstances after 999 calls during 2022.

Such tragedies are occurring regularly, as large numbers of ambulances are tied up outside hospitals, unable to offload their patients to staffed overcrowded A&E units. The 511 deaths were more than double the 220 known comparable deaths in 2021.

Bereaved relatives said how the pain of losing a loved one increased when the ambulance team arrived and it took a long time to start treatment. Coroners, senior doctors and ambulance staff say the scale of loss of life illustrates the growing dangers to patients from the establishment of NHS urgent and emergency care services.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said: “More than 500 of these deaths caused by ambulance delays in one year are tragic and avoidable.” “These numbers are deeply disturbing. This is the equivalent of several plane crashes.”


Rita Taylor, 84, died last October after suffering head injuries and bleeding on the brain after falling at home in Milton Keynes. An inquest into his death heard that an ambulance was called at 10.28am and “due to a lack of resources did not arrive until 17.17” – almost seven hours later.

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Tom Osborne, coroner for Milton Keynes, concluded: “The delay in sending an ambulance missed many opportunities to admit him to the hospital and start his treatment.” He was so concerned by ambulance delays that he issued a Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) report – a legal warning notice – to the NHS minister, Will Quince, and the South Central Ambulance Service.

The 511 deaths that the Guardian has established last year may be an underestimate of the true number after delays in ambulance response. Only three of England’s 10 regional ambulance services provided full-year figures for the past two years as requested.

We obtained data for four others in their board paper. The other three – London, East Midlands and East of England Ambulance Service – do not provide and publish no data on such deaths, although all 10 trusts are obliged to do so quarterly as a way to improve care.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) recorded 248 deaths last year where its staff failed to respond in time to patients deemed to be Category 1 or Category 2 emergencies. That was more than double the 122 “delayed ambulance response” deaths in 2021.

Ambulances are meant to respond to category 1 calls in seven minutes and category 2 calls in 18 minutes. When Aaron Morris, 31, crashed while riding his motorbike in County Durham last July, NEAS took 49 minutes and 49 seconds to respond to six separate calls for immediate help.

A NEAS investigation found that an ambulance was not allocated until 25 minutes after the first call 95% chance Had there been a delay in interrupting his care, he would have lived. NEAS chief operating officer Stephen Segasby offered his “sincere and heartfelt condolences” to Morris’ widow, Sam, and the family.

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West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) and Yorkshire Ambulance Service each recorded 70 such deaths last year. In the case of WMAS, that was more than three times the 22 in 2021.

Andrew Cox, senior coroner for Cornwall, recently issued a PFD to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, after hearing at a separate inquest that the three patients who died took two-and-a-half, nine and 19 hours respectively for ambulances to arrive. , in 2021 and 2022.

Laurence Turner, head of policy and research at the GMB union, said: “These new figures expose the brutal reality in ambulance services. The horrific scale of this loss of life is placing unbearable stress on staff and patients’ loved ones. This is a hidden scandal and sadly we know the true number of deaths is much higher. More than half of GMB ambulance members have seen deaths due to delays.”

Mark Docherty, executive director of nursing at WMAS, recently told the Birmingham and Solihull Joint Inquiry Committee that the main reason ambulance crews were stuck outside A&E units was because patients were dying because of slow responses.

“It’s not a personnel issue or a money issue,” He told the councillors. “We don’t want to spend every day visiting families and apologizing for the death of a relative or loved one when they shouldn’t have. This is completely preventable in my opinion. “

While the London Ambulance Service says it does not keep statistics on such deaths, one of its officers, Helen Woodford, told the service’s board last September that it was “facing a high number of incidents reported as deaths which may be due to delays. High levels of demand.”

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NHS leaders, staff groups and thinktanks all blame rising demand for care, years of underfunding and staff shortages for hospitals so overloaded that they force patients to sit outside ambulances for hours, with paramedics unable to respond to other 999 calls. .

NHS England did not directly respond to the figures. A spokesman said: “NHS staff have worked exceptionally hard, particularly over the winter, to continue to deliver care to patients despite record levels of demand, industrial action, the ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu, and limited capacity due to thousands of beds. For discharge every day By medically fit patients.

“Despite this incredible pressure on services, which has continued this year, the NHS has significantly improved ambulance performance over the last two months with response times to category 2 calls in January and February being an hour faster than in December.

“We know there is more to do, so last month the NHS launched its Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan which sets out how we plan to reduce waiting times and increase capacity, with hundreds more ambulances, thousands more beds, and increased use. Urgent Community Measures such as response teams.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our sympathies go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. No one should wait longer than necessary for emergency care and we are taking urgent action to reduce waiting times. We have the fastest emergency waiting times in the history of the NHS, supported by record funding. And we plan to deliver the longest-lasting improvements.”


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