Fears sparked by ambulance waiting times

Ambulances outside Eastbourne District General Hospital
Ambulances outside Eastbourne District General Hospital

AMBULANCES can be off the road for up to four hours while waiting with patients for hospital beds at Eastbourne DGH, according to an ambulance service whistleblower.

The frustrated man, who works for South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), said he was worried the town’s ambulance crews were spending too much time waiting for beds to become available.

He said, “Ambulance crews are waiting in the corridors of the hospital for beds, which means they are not out there responding to calls.

“Ambulances from other areas are sent to Eastbourne from Bexhill, Hastings, Lewes, or even as far as Kent to provide cover, and then they end up in the queue at Eastbourne DGH.

“There can be as many as seven ambulance patients queuing on stretchers for a bed – that would not be uncommon.”

The staff member explained the paramedics have to leave their ambulances parked outside Eastbourne’s A&E department and wait until there is a bed for the patient.

He added, “In some cases it is two hours but it can be anything up to four-and-a-half hours.

“My worry is that ambulances are being taken off the road which is having a knock-on effect in other towns because their ambulances are coming over to Eastbourne.”

The Gazette understands SECAmb brings ambulances in to Eastbourne from other towns ahead of emergency calls.

The member of ambulance staff has also explained a bed is kept free in A&E in case a patient in a life-threatening condition is rushed to hospital.

But he added, “They have to keep moving the ambulances to different towns – it is a shifting game.”

A spokesperson from Eastbourne DGH said, “The hospital is extremely busy at the moment and we are doing everything possible to ensure patients are seen, treated and, if needed, admitted as quickly as possible.

“We are working closely with colleagues at South East Coast Ambulance Service to ensure patient safety and timely ambulance turnaround is maintained at all times.”

And a SECAmb spokesperson added, “SECAmb works closely with hospitals across its region to ensure a quick turnaround of our ambulances from hospitals. This work includes regular review meetings and conference calls with hospitals and local liaison between our operational managers and hospital staff.

“The Trust recognises there is more work to be done and is committed to working with its hospital partners to further improve performance and ensure patients receive the highest possible level of care.”

Hospital bosses said the number of “bed blockers” at the DGH and Conquest Hospital in Hastings had risen above average for December.

Almost four per cent of beds in the two hospitals, predominantly occupied by elderly people, were waiting to be sent home but did not have the community care in place.