Scarborough Hospital had ambulances waiting outside to pass on their patients for an average of 18 hours a day every day throughout March, figures reveal.
A Freedom of information request by The Scarborough News has also revealed that in 2014-15 and 2015-16 Scarborough Hospital’s Accident and emergency department racked up more than £2 million in penalty fines when its targets for taking in ambulance patients were not met.
The problem also delayed ambulances in responding to 999 calls. in February, the ambulances were waiting an average of 16 hours a day every day outside the hospital, according to figures published in Yorkshire Ambulance Service’s Integrated Performance Reports.
April saw ambulance handover times at 15 hours a day. May has shown a drop to an average of seven hours a day.
A Yorkshire Ambulance Service paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It’s constant. Scarborough and York are horrendous for it. When we get stuck in A&E it takes us off and someone can call 999 and not get a fast response – it all backs up.
“The other day I think it was something like a six-hour wait for ambulances at Scarborough.”
Over the past six years they have seen the service become busier and more stretched.
Government funding is being “protected” but simple changes such as the price of fuel make a huge difference for the budget, the paramedic said.
In 2014-15 Scarborough’s emergency department worked up £1,046,600 in ambulance handover fines and in 2015-16 the total was £1,007,400.
The department is also fined for 12-hour breaches – if a patient is waiting to be moved to a ward for more than 12 hours the hospital is fined £1,000. Between 2015-16 there were 36 incidents, a fine of £36,000, compared to just five incidents the year before.
The paramedic praised A&E staff who “are doing the best they can” but feels the public need to do more to help the situation. They believe there are too many people who use A&E instead of going to see a GP or don’t want to wait for an appointment.
“It is an emergency service for people that are really unwell and have nowhere else to turn. The public need to be told that, yes you do pay for this but you’re going to break it if you keep treating it like you are.”
In April this year, The Scarborough News reported 15-hour waits for hospital beds in an incident that saw 14 ambulances queuing outside to pass on patients.
One patient got in touch following the article, saying: “During our time in the waiting area there were people with all illnesses coming in and some showing signs of extreme pain and discomfort, some with nausea and on the verge of passing out, people with broken legs and arms.
“Unfortunately all the hospital could do was leave them sat in a packed waiting area as nowhere else was available for them to go. I would like to stress on no account am I blaming any of the staff at the hospital for this. They were all polite, helpful and working as best they could in very difficult circumstances.”
A spokesperson for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “The pressure facing our hospitals has been well documented, and there are several factors that affected our performance at the start of this year.
“A combination of growing numbers in attendance rates, delayed discharges and wards closed due to norovirus resulted in significant pressure on beds. This means that, as with many other hospitals, we have been unable to consistently achieve the expected performance levels. Achieving the four-hour and ambulance turnaround performance targets are not solely the responsibility of the emergency department, and we are working with primary care, social care, Yorkshire Ambulance Service and our commissioners to reduce delays across all parts of the system.
“At Scarborough we have introduced a new role onto the wards to help reduce delays in patients being discharged, which is helping to make sure that beds are available for those who need them. Patients attending A&E are treated according to clinical need, and those requiring urgent attention are seen promptly.
“Some patients will be directed to the urgent care centre within the hospital which is a separate GP-led service, however when we are facing high demand people may find that they are waiting longer. Providing both services from Scarborough Hospital improves access to emergency care and delivers a safer service. Despite these pressures, we are pleased that most of our patients give positive feedback about our emergency departments.”
Nigel Ayre, delivery manager of Healthwatch North Yorkshire, said: “Ensuring Yorkshire Ambulance Service is achieving the turnaround and handover targets avoids crucial knock-on effects on A&E departments, and therefore, the patient experience.
“One of Healthwatch North Yorkshire’s five key projects for the year ahead is to research how the Yorkshire Ambulance Service currently performs in this respect, the issues it faces in doing so, and how that impacts on services across our county’s hospitals.
“We are working with commissioners and providers to better understand the situation across the county and Scarborough in particular.”
Healthwatch listen to experience of patients and can be contacted on (01904) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.