NHS Struggles to Meet Ambulance Demands

Poor response time by NHS ambulance services has led to increased deaths throughout the United Kingdom. New numbers explain how severe the ambulance crisis is.

According to a new Guardian report, 511 seriously ill patients died in 2022 due to ambulance delays. That figure is over double the amount that occurred in 2021.

Fatalities due to slow ambulance service involved stroke, heart attack, car accidents, or those who failed to continue breathing. Numbers were obtained from only three of England’s 10 regional ambulance services, meaning the true amount of deaths is likely to be higher.


The NHS has guidelines that describe appropriate ambulance wait times depending on the severity, also called "category."

Category one ambulance calls are for life-threatening emergencies requiring immediate intervention or resuscitation. The NHS national standard requires an average response to those calls in seven minutes and a response to 90% of the calls in 15 minutes.

Category two calls are classified as emergency or potentially serious conditions in-need of quick assessment. On average, ambulances should be at the scene within 18 minutes and respond to 90% of category two calls.

Category three calls are for non-life-threatening situations requiring relief. The national standard requires 90% of these calls to receive a two-hour response time.

Meanwhile, category four calls are intended for non-urgent calls requiring assessment. Ninety percent of category four calls should be reached by ambulance services within two-and-a-half hours.

NHS data shows response time among all categories has significantly dipped since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 2022, the response time for category one calls reached 10 minutes. The category two response time averaged over 90 minutes during the same month.

The trickle-down effect of ambulance service continued for category three and four calls. Response times for category three calls this past December averaged four hours and 19 minutes, with one in 10 calls for service having an 11-hour plus wait time. Category four calls reported similar findings.

U.K. citizens are feeling the consequences of slow ambulance services

The Guardian shows the North East ambulance service (NEAS) recorded 248 deaths in 2022 due to failed response time for category one or two calls. The West Midlands ambulance service (WMAS) and Yorkshire ambulance service recorded a 300% increase in deaths due to slow ambulance service, reaching 70 deaths in 2022.


One of those victims was 31-year-old Arron Morris, who was involved in a motorcycle accident in County Durham last July. ITV News says it took nearly 50 minutes for the North East Ambulance Serice to show up despite six calls from various members and law enforcement at the scene.

A new Channel 4 Dispatches poll shows 53% of ambulance staffers have witnessed a death caused by NHS delays, with 52% waiting alongside patients in need of care outside accident and emergency facilities.

In January, the NHS released a document describing how it planned to speed up ambulance wait time. In the report, the NHS says it will add over 800 new ambulances during the 2023 to 2024 cycle. Also, the NHS lowered the aimed target response time to 30 minutes for category two calls.

The changes appear to have an impact. In February, the NHS released a report showing significant jumps in ambulance service proficiency. Wait time for category one cases moved closer to eight minutes versus 11 minutes, and category two wait times reached 32 minutes instead of over 90 minutes.

The NHS believes the increase in hospital beds is the reason behind better ambulance service. For 2023 to 2024, more than 5,000 additional hospital beds will be present than the previous year.

Although the NHS wants to expand and add to its care, an NHS staff survey shows many are considering leaving their position. Nearly 30% of NHS staff report thoughts of quitting their job, with 17% willing to take a new job if possible. Ambulance staff statistics are concerning, with 49% of respondents saying they are burnt out from their posts.

Nearly 63% of NHS staff are currently satisfied with their level of care, a nearly 5% decrease from 2021. Time will tell if NHS ambulance services really do improve for 2023.


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