All ambulance services in England on highest alert level amid record Covid cases and UK heatwave

Staff absences and the hot weather has left ambulance trusts struggling to cope

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All ambulance services in England are on the highest level of alert, meaning long delays to 999 responses.

The 10 trusts have moved to the emergency crisis level and are facing “extreme pressure” due to a combination of Covid absences among staff and difficulty caused by the current heatwave.

There are also ongoing delays in handing over patients to A&E, leaving ambulance trusts struggling to cope.

All ambulance services in England are on the highest level of alert (Photo: Getty Images)All ambulance services in England are on the highest level of alert (Photo: Getty Images)
All ambulance services in England are on the highest level of alert (Photo: Getty Images)

‘Highest level of alert’

West Midlands Ambulance Service said it had been on the highest level of alert – known as REAP 4 – for a few months, while South Central Ambulance Service said it was also at this level.

West Midlands had more than half of its ambulance crews queued outside hospitals on Monday, with a spokesman for the trust saying one ambulance crew had to wait 24 hours to hand a patient over, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

The South Central service added that it had also declared a critical incident “due to current pressures on our services”.

In a statement, the service said: “We continue to prioritise our response to those patients with life-threatening and serious emergencies but, due to the current levels of pressure we are seeing, there will be delays in responding to other patients with less urgent needs who are assessed as requiring an ambulance response.

“We are experiencing an increasing number of 999 calls into our service, combined with patients calling back if there is a delay in our response to them. As a result, our capacity to take calls is being severely challenged.

“This is combined with the challenges of handing patients over to busy hospitals across our region and a rise in Covid infections, as well as other respiratory illnesses, among both staff and in our communities.

“This week we are also faced with high temperatures across our region which we know will lead to an increase in demand on our service. All of these issues combined are impacting on our ability to respond to patients.”

A North West Ambulance Service spokesman said the recent warm weather had increased demand, meaning the alert level had increased to REAP 4.

South East Coast Ambulance Service has also confirmed it moved to REAP 4 this week, along with London Ambulance Service due to “sustained demand” on both 999 and 111 services”.

A spokesman said: “The public can support us by only calling 999 in the event of a life-threatening emergency and by taking steps to keep hydrated and stay out of the sun at the hottest periods of the day.”

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust, the East Midlands Ambulance Service, the East of England Ambulance Service, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service and North East Ambulance Service have also all increased their alert level.

‘Only call 999 in life-threatening emergency’

Members of the public are urged to only call 999 “in a life-threatening emergency” and to not call 99 back to ask about an estimated arrival time unless the patient’s condition has changed.

Ambulance services are also advising people to keep hydrated and stay out of the sun during the hottest periods of the day.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “Near record levels of 999 calls, challenges discharging patients to social care settings, increasing Covid cases – leading to more than 20,000 staff absences – and the current heatwave is inevitably having an impact on NHS capacity.

“It, however, remains vital that the public continue to dial 999 in an emergency and use 111 online, or their local pharmacy for other health issues and advice.”

Widespread disruption looks set to continue this week as temperatures are expected to reach a dangerously high peak in the coming days.

Forecasters believe there is a 30% chance the mercury could surpass the current UK record of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in 2019.

An “amber” extreme heat warning is currently in place covering much of England and Wales which says there could be a danger to life or potential serious illness, with adverse health effects not just limited to the most vulnerable.

People are also warned to expect road closures and delays and cancellations to rail and air services.