Big rise in elderly patients who suffer falls waiting more than four hours for an ambulance

Person on floor
Person on floor

The number of people aged 65 and over forced to wait more than four hours for an ambulance after a fall has doubled since the pandemic, new figures reveal.

Almost 20,000 elderly people waited at least four hours for paramedics to arrive after they had suffered a fall in 2023.

One person was forced to wait for almost three days and ambulance delays of more than 12 hours were 10 times higher than in 2019-20, freedom of information requests obtained by the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

It means that 54 over-65s were waiting more than four hours for an ambulance every day on average in 2022-23.

Meanwhile, 1,411 elderly people who had suffered a fall waited upwards of 12 hours, up from 119 just three years earlier.

In one example, revealed by the Lib Dems, a patient fell off a ladder and broke their femur and then had to be wheeled into a car on an office chair and taken to hospital because no ambulance was available.

In another case a frail person who had fallen and hit their face, breaking their teeth, was taken to an emergency department by a neighbour after the ambulance service said it would take five hours for paramedics to arrive.

Ambulance response targets for falls depend on their severity and the subsequent risk to life, but all should be under three hours. Serious falls, categorised as the second most serious incident, should take place within 18 minutes.

‘Worked to reduce response times’

The worst offender of those that responded to the requests was the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) Trust which accounted for almost 8,000 of the four-hour waits and half of the 12-hour waits.

An EEAS spokesman said they had “worked with our partners to reduce response times and have improved significantly since last year, including getting quicker support to patients who have fallen”.

They said they were also piloting a scheme to train fire and rescue officers to reach patients more quickly.

In the West Midlands a patient was forced to wait for 68 hours and 20 minutes for an ambulance.

The West Mids Ambulance Service (WMAS) Trust said the patient was seen by a local careline service while waiting and assessed and discharged at the scene when paramedics did arrive.

A spokesman apologised and said: “This is not the level of service we would ever wish to provide.

“There is a direct correlation between response times and hospital handover delays, something highlighted in the recent CQC [Care Quality Commission] report into the trust,” he said. “If our crews are left caring for patients outside hospital, they are not available to respond to the next call.”

The Lib Dems are calling on the Government to launch an urgent plan to tackle long ambulance delays and reduce the number of elderly people suffering after falling at home.

‘Years of neglect and chaos’

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said it was “a scandalous example of the damage done to our health service by years of neglect and chaos under this Conservative Government.

“People should be confident that an ambulance will arrive in good time in an emergency. But as these shocking figures show, too often that is simply not happening.”

An NHS spokesman said: “This data is at least a year old and the latest published figures from February [2024] show that despite significant demand for emergency care, ambulance services delivered the fastest response times since last August.

“These improvements are thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, who have been making significant progress toward the aims of our Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan, including community based falls response services, and the nation-wide rollout of urgent community response teams, which provide urgent medical support at a patient’s home within two hours.”

He added: “They can take direct referrals from ambulance services, helping many people avoid a hospital stay and connecting them with other services to help with rehabilitation and falls prevention.”

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