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Ambulance waiting times: full extent of NHS England ambulance crisis explained in charts - how regions compare

The coronavirus pandemic may be largely behind us but NHS England ambulance services still remain under acute pressure.

Ambulance services across England are failing to hit crucial response time targets with the latest figures showing dangerously long waiting times.

Response times for life threatening conditions (category 1) have not hit target in a year while those for emergency conditions (category 2) have not achieved target since March of last year.

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The analysis comes after health bosses openly expressed concerns at dangerously long ambulance waiting times across the country.

After having a stroke last month, an NHS hospital boss said she was taken to A&E by her husband instead of by ambulance because of concerns over ambulance waiting times.

And a top medic at the Royal College of Emergency Medicine recently said she would opt for a taxi instead of an ambulance in the event of an emergency.

How well is your ambulance service performing? And how long would you have to wait for an ambulance if required?

Using the latest NHS England figures these seven charts will show you how well the ambulance service is performing in England and in your local area.

What type of incidents are ambulances responding to?

Ambulance crews are dealing with more life threatening incidents such as for heart attacks (known as category 1 callouts) than in previous years

In April of this year these types of calls were at the highest level for the same month since 2018, when current records began, at over 76,500. They represented 14% of all incidents in comparison to 9% in the same month during previous years.

There were nearly 20,000 more life threatening incidents recorded last month compared to in April 2021, and more than 26,000 more than during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020.

Last year (2021-22) the bulk of incidents were in relation to emergency incidents (category 2), such as strokes or chest pain, which made up 66% of incidents.

The second most common reason was for urgent help (category 3), such as for a burn, and made up 21% of incidents. Life threatening category callouts made up 12% of incidents, while 1% of calls were for non-urgent treatment (category 4).

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How long are people waiting for 999 calls to be answered?

Last year (2021-22) people requiring medical care waited an average of 32 seconds for their 999 call to be answered – six times longer than the year before when the average answering time was five seconds. There were also 10.6 million calls answered last year, up by 32% on the previous year.

Last month (April) there were 860,000 calls (up 25% on April 2021) which were answered in 28 seconds on average.

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How long are people waiting for an ambulance?

People with life threatening conditions (category 1) waited on average nine minutes two seconds for an ambulance to arrive in April – two minutes two seconds greater than the NHS’s seven minute response time target. April’s response times for life threatening incidents were the 6th highest since August 2017 when current records began.

However, response times the month before in March were the highest on record with people waiting nine minutes 35 seconds for an ambulance. Waiting times for life threatening incidents have consistently been over the seven minute target since April 2021.

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For emergency incidents (category 2) response times were considerably longer. The NHS target is 18 minutes but figures show ambulances were taking over 50 minutes to reach people on average. It’s still an improvement on March’s figures which show the average waiting time was over one hour – the longest on record. Waiting times for emergency incidents were last below the 18 minute target inJuly 2020.

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Which areas have the longest ambulance waiting times in England?

Last month South Western Ambulance Service had the longest waiting times in England for life threatening conditions (category 1), taking  on average 11 minutes and 45 seconds. The second worst ambulance service was Isle of Wight Ambulance Service which took 10 minutes 58 seconds to respond, followed by East of England Ambulance Service at 10 minutes 17 seconds.

London Ambulance Service had the quickest response times in England taking six minutes 40 seconds, followed by North East Ambulance Service at seven minutes 16 seconds.

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How long are people spending at A&E?

A&E waiting time targets state 95% of patients should  be treated, transferred, or discharged within four hours – but this is also not being achieved.

The percentage of A&E attendances seen in less than four hours has been dropping over the last 12 years. Figures show 72.3% were seen at A&E within four hours, a 25.4 percentage point decrease from the July 2011 peak when 97.7% were seen within target.

A&E departments are –busy – they recorded 2 million attendances in April. This was a 7% drop on March’s figures but an 11% increase on February’s figures. Departments usually get less busy outside of winter

Busy A&E departments can cause delays for paramedics as ambulances queue outside hospitals.The NHS does not publish data on handover delays outside of winter.

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Are patients’ lives at risk because of delays?

NHS ambulance trusts recorded 572 patient safety incidents in 2021-22 where severe harm or death was caused – 89% more than in 2020-21 when 302 were recorded.

This is where a patient has come to permanent or long-term harm or death as a result of an unexpected or unintended incident in their care.

South Central Ambulance Trust recorded the greatest number of patient safety incidents resulting in severe harm or death in 2021-22 with 134 in total. This is followed by Yorkshire with 81 and North West with 74.

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