At least 500 seriously ill people died last year after waiting longer than they should have for an ambulance, a damning investigation revealed today.
Heart attack and stroke patients and patients involved in road traffic accidents were among the victims.
In every one of the 511 cases logged in England, 999 crews failed to arrive on scene within the NHS’s target response times.
The figure, which lays bare the devastating knock-on effects of the NHS emergency care crisis, is more than double the 220 known comparable deaths logged in 2021.
Ambulance delays reached record levels last year, as the crippled health service ran out of beds, forcing paramedics to spend up to their entire shift queuing outside of hospitals with their patient — rather than responding to incoming emergency calls.
Health bosses and unisons have said the ‘entirely preventable’ deaths are placing an ‘unbearable strain’ on staff and victims’ families.
The NHS did not comment directly on the figures but pointed to ‘incredible pressure’ due to record demand, the twindemic of Covid and flu, strikes and bed blockers.
Aaron Morris (pictured with wife Samantha), 31, was killed in a motorcycle crash while riding his bike near his home in Esh Winning, County Durham. North East Ambulance Service took 49 minutes and 49 seconds to respond — despite receiving six calls asking for help. The service’s own investigation found that an ambulance was not allocated to Mr Morris until 25 minutes after the first call and there was a 95 per cent chance he would have survived the collision if there had not been a delay
A husband in Hull has told of his ‘anger’ after his wife, Teresa Simpson (pictured), died following a 16-hour wait for an ambulance. He believes ‘100 per cent’ that his ‘best friend and soul mate’ would still be alive if she had received care earlier
Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told The Guardian: ‘These 500-plus deaths a year when an ambulance hasn’t got there in time are tragic and avoidable.
‘These numbers are deeply concerning. This is the equivalent of multiple airliners crashing.’
The Guardian investigation gathered data from ambulance trusts on deaths after delays and also examined the outcome of coroner inquests.
However, the 511 figures is expected to be an underestimate.
Only three of England’s 10 ambulance services provided full data for the last two years.
Data for four other ambulances trusts could be gathered from this published data.
But three trusts — London, East Midlands and East of England — did not provide the data or publish it, even though they are required to do so to improve care, according to The Guardian.
And Dr Boyle warned in January that up to 500 people per week died this winter due to delays in emergency care. This figure also included those facing long waits in A&E, however.
The West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) and Yorkshire Ambulance Service both recorded 70 deaths due to ambulance delays. The figure is more than three-times that logged by WMAS in 2021.
Almost half of the ambulance delay fatalities (248) were logged by the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS). The figure is double the 122 deaths linked to delays in 2021.
They affected callers classed as category one — calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries — and category two, which includes heart attacks, strokes and epilepsy.
For category one emergencies, paramedics are supposed to arrive on the scene within seven minutes. For category two, it is 18 minutes.
However, at the worst point this winter, category one waits reached nearly 11 minutes, while category two soared above one hour and 32 minutes.
Latest NHS data for February show improvements. Category one waits were 8 minutes and 30 seconds, on average, while category two averaged 32 minutes and 20 seconds.
The Guardian investigation found that one of the fatalities was Aaron Morris, 31, who died following a crash while he was riding a motorbike in County Durham last July.
NEAS took 49 minutes and 49 seconds to respond — despite receiving six calls asking for help.
The service’s own investigation found that an ambulance was not allocated to Mr Morris until 25 minutes after the first call and there was a 95 per cent chance he would have survived the collision if there had not been a delay.
Stephen Segasby, chief operating office of NEAS, offered his ‘sincere and heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s loved ones’. His wife Samantha was pregnant at the time and has since given birth to twin boys, Aaron-Junior and Ambrose-Ayren.
Pictured: Ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent in January 2021
In a separate case, Teresa Simpson, from Hull, died in November following a 16-hour wait for an ambulance. Her husband Matthew believes ‘100 per cent’ that his ‘best friend and soul mate’ would still be alive if she had received care earlier.
Rita Taylor, 84, who died after suffering a head injury due to a fall at her home in Milton Keynes in October, was also among the ambulance delay fatalities.
An ambulance was called at 10:28am but did not arrive until 5:17pm ‘due to a lack of resources’ which meant there were a ‘number of lost opportunities to admit her to hospital and begin her treatment’, a coroner concluded.
She died in hospital on the day of her fall, after a CT scan revealed she had suffered a bleed in the brain.
The coroner issued a prevention of future deaths report — which coroners are duty-bound to produce if they believe action is needed to prevent more fatalities under the same circumstances — that was sent to Health minister Will Quince in January.
Andrew Cox, the senior coroner for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, sent a prevention of future deaths report to Health Secretary Steve Barclay in November after conducting a ‘series’ of inquests where delays in ambulance arrivals had caused or contributed to the deaths.
These included cases when ambulances took up to 19 hours to arrive.
Lawrence Turner, the GMB union’s head of policy and research, told The Guardian that the figures expose the brutal reality in ambulance services’.
He said: ‘The horrific scale of this loss of life is placing an unbearable strain on staff and patients’ loved ones. This is a hidden scandal and sadly we know that the true number of deaths will be much higher. More than half of GMB ambulance members have witnessed a fatality due to delays.’
Ambulance chiefs have blamed crews being stuck outside of A&E units, leading to delayed responses, as the key reason for patient deaths — rather than too little staff or money.
However, NHS bosses have blamed a spike in demand for care leading to overcrowded hospitals and A&E departments, along with years of underfunding and a lack of staff.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘NHS staff have worked exceptionally hard, particularly throughout winter, to continue to provide patients with care despite record levels of demand, industrial action, a “twindemic” of Covid and flu, and limited capacity due to thousands of beds taken up by patients who are medically fit for discharge every day.
‘Despite this incredible pressure on services, which has continued into this year, the NHS has delivered significant improvements in ambulance performance in the last two months with response times for category 2 calls an hour faster in January and February than in December.
‘We know there is more to do, which is why last month the NHS launched its urgent and emergency care recovery plan, which sets out how we plan to reduce waiting times and boost capacity, with hundreds more ambulances, thousands more beds, and increased use of measures like urgent community response teams.’
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Our sympathies are with the family and friends of those who have lost loved ones.
‘No one should be waiting longer than necessary for emergency care and we are taking urgent action to reduce waiting times.
‘We have set out a plan to deliver one of the fastest and longest-sustained improvements in emergency waiting times in the NHS’s history, backed by record funding.’