Ambulance service declares ‘critical incident’ over significant IT problem

An ambulance trust has declared a critical incident due to a technical problem.

South East Coast Ambulance Service said it had suffered a “significant IT issue” overnight as it urged patients to “consider alternatives to 999 where possible”.

It is the second time in a week that a technical problem has caused an issue with an ambulance service.

On November 10 the East of England Ambulance Service said that its computer aided dispatch and telephone systems experienced a “failure”.

While the systems were back up and running shortly after the problem, the service had to temporarily reroute 999 calls to neighbouring ambulance services.

A spokesperson for South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: “Following a significant IT issue overnight, we have declared a Critical Incident this morning – 17 November 2021.

“Our staff are working extremely hard as we continue to respond to patients. We would ask that you consider alternatives to calling 999, including NHS 111 online, unless it’s absolutely essential.”

The issues come amid rising pressures in emergency care.

Asked about ambulance pressures during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons: “I appreciate that ambulance crews and ambulance services are doing an amazing job, particularly at this time of year, and I thank them for what they are doing.

“We are supporting them with more cash – another £450 million was awarded to 120 trusts to upgrade their facilities and we’re putting another £36 billion into dealing with the backlog which is fundamentally affecting the NHS so badly at the moment through the levy that we’ve instituted.”

On Tuesday Amanda Pritchard, the head of the NHS in England, said pressures on emergency care systems in hospitals are “even greater” than those caused by Covid.

She also described “demand rebound” for emergency services including the highest ever number of 999 calls in a month.

Elsewhere a paramedic has described only caring for one patient in a whole shift due to handover delays at hospital.

Faye Shepherd, a student paramedic for South Western Ambulance Service, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that she saw only one patient in a 14.5-hour work day because her crew was “stuck at hospital for the entire duration waiting for bed space”.

In October, Ms Shepherd had described the “palpable sense of concern among staff” as her ambulance was “23rd in the queue out of 25 ambulance crews waiting to enter the emergency department”.

A spokesperson from South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said: “We continue to experience the highest ever level of sustained demand on our service.

“Our response times are directly affected by the time it takes us to handover patients into busy hospital emergency departments, which is longer than we have ever seen before.

“We are losing many more hours compared with recent years, which causes our ambulances to queue outside hospitals and unable to respond to other patients and has an inevitable impact on the service we can provide. This is a health system problem which therefore demands a system solution.”

It comes after ambulance chiefs sounded the alarm over a new report which claimed tens of thousands of patients in England may have come to harm while waiting in ambulance queues outside busy hospitals.

In October, central NHS ordered hospitals to end all handover delays and stop using ambulances as emergency department “cubicles”.

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