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West Midlands Ambulance Service ‘on brink of collapse’

The West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) is dealing with a “catastrophic situation” that could see it collapse within months, according to its nursing director Mark Docherty. 

Mr Docherty said that patients were dying needlessly every day due to issues including long hospital handovers and delayed response times.

He predicted that the service would fail by August, and he asked why NHS England and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) were “not all over this”.

In response, NHS England has said that £150 million has been allocated to tackling these issues.

In an interview with the Health Service Journal (HSJ), Mr Docherty said that too many people were waiting in the back of ambulances for up to 24 hours before being admitted to hospital, and that serious incidents had quadrupled in the last year due to these delays.

He said that at least 72 people in the West Midlands had almost certainly died because ambulances did not get to them in time.

There have also been reports of heart attack and stroke patients waiting nearly an hour for ambulances, and a sick patient who was kept waiting outside a Shropshire hospital for 23 hours last month.

In April there were 17,795 lost hours due to handover delays of over 30 minutes, which is the highest number of lost hours ever experienced by WMAS.

“It would make me the happiest person in the world if everyone in the system proves to me that actually the ambulance service in the West Midlands isn’t going to fail on 17 August, and I’ve got it completely wrong.”

–Nursing Director of West Midlands Ambulance Service, Mark Docherty

Speaking to the HSJ, Mr Docherty said: “Around 17 August is the day I think it will all fail.

“I’ve been asked how I can be so specific, but that date is when a third of our resource [will be] lost to delays, and that will mean we just can’t respond.

“Mathematically it will be a bit like a Titanic moment.

“It will be a mathematical [certainty] that this thing is sinking, and it will be pretty much beyond the tipping point by then.”

He added: “It would make me the happiest person in the world if everyone in the system proves to me that actually the ambulance service in the West Midlands isn’t going to fail on 17 August, and I’ve got it completely wrong.”

Documents from a quality governance meeting at the trust in March showed another director warning that “deaths are happening which should not be happening”, and nationally patients are being let down in a “catastrophic situation”.

An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS has been working hard to reduce ambulance delays and £150m of additional system funding has been allocated for ambulance service pressures in 2022-23.

“There is no doubt the NHS still faces pressures, and the latest figures are another reminder of the crucial importance of community and social care, in helping people in hospital leave when they are fit to do so, not just because it is better for them but because it helps free up precious NHS bed space.”

Victoria Vallance, CQC’s director of secondary and specialist healthcare, told HSJ the impact of “escalating pressure on the NHS is severe” with “unacceptably long delays for patients”.

She added: “There are very real concerns about the significant risk to patients and the impact on paramedics and hospital staff as they do all they can to deliver safe care under the most demanding circumstances, and we have highlighted these concerns in our public board meeting.

“We will continue to monitor services and use our regulatory powers where necessary.”

England-wide NHS data for March shows ambulance trusts across the country missing various targets, including too-slow response times to the most urgent incidents. MPs are now demanding “urgent action” across the country, with West Midlands MPs saying that the government must step in amid claims the crisis is “putting lives at risk”.

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