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Ambulance services creaking under strain as delays steadily rise

Figures from NHS England’s winter situation report have revealed that services are already feeling the strain of winter.

Over the past week the ambulance service across England has seen over 1,800 delays of over 60 minutes, and calls to 111 have steadily increased.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that these preliminary figures indicate “a huge amount of strain”, and that this is without a flu outbreak or cold weather.

He added that a weather warning has been issued for the weekend, and so he expects things to get worse.

“The ambulance sector is under real pressure with rising emergency activity and delays at some hospitals.

“Like everyone else, they are just-about-coping, but that’s largely thanks to the fact we are better prepared for winter than ever before,” he said.

Dickson stressed the importance of remembering that winter planning and resilience also means local services, such as GPs and mental health services being prepared, and not just hospitals and EDs.

“Only by focusing more on out-of-hospital care can we even begin to reduce the demand on the hospitals which are now at bursting at the seams,” he continued.

“The number one priority needs to be fundamental reform of social care provision – but sadly the political class continues to kick the issue down the road.”

Stressing the “human cost”, Dickson explained that parents are being turned away from hospitals, learning that their child’s operation has been cancelled, and for two days last month there was just one available paediatric intensive care bed in London.

“Add to that a 16% rise in Norovirus cases compared with last year and more than 1,800 patients stuck in ambulances outside A&E departments in one week and we can clearly see a system which is struggling to cope.

“Extra money in the budget was welcome but £335m was frankly too little too late – and it did nothing to ease the social care crisis,” he concluded.

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