Ambulance staff are being forced to prioritise government targets over patient safety and to “baby-sit” patients rather than attend 999 calls.
Research by the Sunday Telegraph suggests that staff shortages and poor management has led to thousands of 999 patients being made to wait in ambulances for up to five hours before they can be treated in hospital.
By keeping patients in ambulances hospitals have allowed themselves more time to meet government targets of treating patients within four hours of admittance.
Mike Penning, the shadow health minister, said: “Labour’s tick box culture is forcing staff to prioritise the four-hour target ahead of ensuring patients get the treatment they need. It is madness that all of this has happened at a time when the number of people being admitted to A&E units is soaring.”
Internal documents from the London Ambulance Service showed that hospitals were so short-staffed that ambulance staff were routinely forced to look after multiple patients simultaneously, so that colleagues could respond to 999 calls.
Sam Oestricher, ambulance representative for trade union Unison, added: “Our members are spending hours effectively baby-sitting patients who have been rushed to A&E departments because they need to be seen urgently.
“It leaves patients and crews in a terribly anxious, frustrating situation, and it greatly increases the risks.”
Health minister Ben Bradshaw said “severe action” would be taken against hospitals found keeping patients in ambulances to cheat A&E targets.
He said: “The vast majority of hospitals up and down the country are meeting the four-hour target without keeping people waiting in ambulances.”