UNIONS warned yesterday that savage cuts to ambulance services and staffing levels are causing the A&E crisis to ‘spiral out of control’ and ‘will cost lives’.
Patients are waiting as long as six hours in an ambulances outside A&E departments before they are admitted.
Figures for ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that an ambulance in Wales was left queuing for six hours 22 minutes.
In eastern England an ambulance waited for more than five hours. There were plenty of examples of waits in excess of three, four and five hours across the country.
Ambulances are meant to wait for a maximum of 15 minutes and delays of more than 30 minutes can lead to fines for hospitals in England.
Unison national officer Hope Daley said: ‘The cuts imposed on the NHS were bound to have a knock-on effect on the ambulance services and on patient safety.
‘There are simply not enough staff in A&E, this means ambulances can’t hand over patients who need vital medical treatment.
‘Things will only get worse as the winter pressures kick in.
‘The ambulance service is currently running with a reduced number of staff and ambulances, and there is a worryingly high level of stress among paramedics who are trying their best to do their jobs and help patients in need of urgent medical attention.
‘The A&E crisis is spiralling out of control, the pressures on medical staff are reaching breaking point and sadly this may start costing lives very soon.’
Rehana Azan, NHS national GMB officer said: ‘What we are calling for is for the government to bring to a halt any further ward closures and any downgrading of services and to give the NHS the fair funding settlement.
‘We have a crisis in our A&Es, all on the watch of the Tory government.
‘The employers had made cuts to ambulance workers in England. As you know in the UK we run a 24-hours seven-days-a-week service and ambulance workers get an unsociable hours or “out of hours” allowance where many ambulance workers do night shifts.
‘They were threatening to cut ambulance workers “out of hours” allowance and sick pay by 25%.
‘We have just suspended our industrial action ballot because we got the money paid back as the employers made the concessions needed.’
Barrie Brown, Unite Health National Officer said: ‘What we have seen with the increase in the time ambulances wait outside A&Es reflect what we have seen with the Yorkshire Ambulance service.
‘We have been in formal dispute since March and we had strike action and other forms of industrial action.
‘The dispute is about the numbers of staff and training.
‘The more highly trained the ambulance staff are, the less need there is for patients to be taken to A&E departments because they can be treated on site or in their home without having to be taken to casualty.
‘Our dispute is over staff being downgraded, so they are taking on staff with very limited training and putting them on ambulances.
‘We will keep fighting until we win and we have further industrial action planned for after Christmas.’
Bill Rogers, Secretary of the North East London Council of Action, who has led the fight against the closure of Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, said: ‘Quite clearly the only way to defend the NHS and put a stop to these cuts and closures once and for all is for the TUC to call a general strike to bring this hated Tory government down and go forward to a workers government that will restore the NHS and develop it.’