Bishop of London leads debate on ambulance handovers

The Bishop of London tabled a question for short debate on 3rd November 2022, concerning ambulance handovers in light of an upcoming strike:

The Lord Bishop of London: To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they are making on ensuring swift ambulance handovers, as set out in Our Plan for Patients, published on 22 September, given the decision of ambulance workers across 11 trusts to ballot for strike action.

My Lords, I start by saying how grateful I am to your Lordships’ House for setting time aside for what I think is an important and timely debate. I am also grateful for the briefing from the House of Lords Library.

Last week, the GMB union announced that it was balloting ambulance workers over strike action across 11 trusts in what would be the biggest ambulance workers’ strike for 30 years. I think it would be wise to ask ourselves what has happened across the whole system to bring us to this point. Ambulance handover delays are an increasing issue across the trusts in England. The NHS contract for this year sets out that 90% of handovers should take place within 30 minutes and 65% within 15. However, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives notes 40,000 cases of patients waiting longer than an hour for handover—this was recorded this year and is the third-highest volume on record.

Long handover delays increase the risk of harm to patients while they are in ambulances. The NHS Confederation says that eight out of 10 patients who were delayed beyond 60 minutes were assessed as having had an experience that had potentially harmed them, and nearly one in 10 experienced severe harm as a result. The number of ambulances waiting to transfer their patients also impacts on the availability of ambulances, and the response times therefore increase. This in turn risks increasing further harm to those who are waiting for an ambulance in the community. Florence Nightingale famously once said that hospitals should do no harm. It is a sentiment that I believe is appropriate to the wider healthcare system. The healthcare system should do no harm.

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