England’s top doctor praises hard work of staff as ambulance handover delays show significant improvement

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Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director.

England’s top doctor has praised the hard work of staff as new data shows ambulance handover delays have improved despite increased demand, alongside continued pressure from winter viruses and industrial action.

The weekly winter figures show that the hours lost to ambulance handover delays dropped to 18,799 in the week ending February 25, down from 23,494 the previous week.

This significant improvement was despite more patients being taken to hospitals by ambulance last week (91,597) compared to the week before (89,377) – and a 17% rise from the same time last year.

Figures also show winter viruses continue to cause concern, with an average of 1,837 patients in hospital with flu each day last week – more than three times higher than the same week last year (518) – while there were 469 patients in hospital with norovirus each day last week, and 2,276 patients with Covid-19.

Despite the NHS having over 2,200 more general and acute beds compared to the same week last year (103,273 versus 101,068) bed occupancy remains high, with 95.1% of adult general and acute beds occupied in the week ending 26 February.

Each day last week an average 13,222 beds were being taken up by patients who were medically fit for discharge because of delays sending people home or to other settings like social and community care.

The NHS has been preparing extensively for winter, with robust measures in place to manage demand – including more beds, new ambulances, and expanding measures such as care traffic control centres, virtual wards, urgent community response teams and same day emergency care – which help build on the measures set out in our urgent and emergency care recovery plan.

Alongside dealing with ongoing winter pressures, staff have also been working hard to mitigate the impact of strike action, which ran from Saturday to midnight yesterday, with trusts putting in place measures to maintain care for those who need it urgently, and rescheduling planned appointments which were unable to go ahead.

NHS National Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: 

“These figures show that hardworking NHS staff are still facing significant pressure from winter viruses, while also facing higher demand for emergency care and constrained bed capacity, alongside further industrial action.

“Thanks to the work of NHS teams continuing to build on the work of our urgent and emergency care recovery plan and early winter planning, today’s data shows significant improvements in ambulance handover times, despite increased demand, with measures helping safeguard our services by providing more beds compared to the same time last year, while same-day emergency care units are helping keep people out of A&E.

“The public can play their part by continuing to only use 999 and A&E in an emergency and using 111 online or local pharmacies and GP services for other conditions”.

The weekly winter sitrep data can be found on the NHS website.

Source: NHS / Public Health England

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