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Ambulance waiting times latest: January shows huge improvement

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December saw record highs for ambulance waiting times for category 2 calls, which include serious health issues such as strokes and heart attacks, however, new figures shows waiting times are on the decline.

The average time for category 2 calls in December was 92 minutes, however, that figure was slashed by more than half in January. 

The latest data for January show that the average waiting time for category 2 calls across England was an hour less than the previous month, with the average now standing at 32 minutes.

Recently SR Times covered the plans released by NHS England and the Government, which aim to reduce ambulance and A&E waiting times across the board, you can read about the full plan here.

As part of those plans, a new interim target time of 30 minutes has been set for category 2 calls for the next year.

As for 2024 and onwards, the proposed plan is to get ambulance waiting times for category 2 calls back to their pre-pandemic average time of 18 minutes, which has not been met since 2021.

Charlotte Nicholls, head of policy at the Stroke Association, says: “Stroke is a medical emergency and every minute is critical. While we are cautiously optimistic that ambulance response times in January were an hour faster than December, we are not out of the woods yet. 

“Response times are still above the 18-minute target and we know pressures on emergency services staff are enormous. We welcomed NHS England’s Urgent and Emergency Recovery Plan last week and its aim to reduce Category 2 response times and A&E waiting times. 

“This is critical for improving stroke care and access to treatments like thrombectomy. The government and NHS leaders must now urgently address staffing issues to make this plan a reality and support stroke staff to deliver high-quality care into the future.

Despite ongoing challenges in the NHS, our advice to the public remains the same. If you spot the signs of a stroke in you or someone else, it’s vital to call 999 straight away. The ambulance service will always be there for stroke, even on strike days. Always act FAST, always call 999 . This lines up getting scanned and seen by a stroke specialist as soon as possible when you arrive at hospital.

Austin Willett, CEO of charity Different Strokes, says: “We welcome the improvement in the response times during January. However, we must recognise that the average waiting time is still significantly above the target of 18 minutes. Furthermore, it is important not to read too much into just one month’s set of figures in isolation. While these latest figures are a step in the right direction, our hope is that in the near future we will see the pre-pandemic response target of 18 minutes being met every month.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director for the British Heart Foundation, says: “Heart attacks and strokes kill – that’s why every minute matters. If average ambulance response times continue to improve, as they have done this month, today’s figures are reason for cautious optimism.

“But this isn’t yet job done. To stop dangerously long ambulance waiting times becoming the norm every winter, we need long-term strategic thinking that ensures there are enough NHS specialist staff to deliver someone’s lifesaving heart care in time.

“It’s also vital that ambulance response times get back to an average of 18 minutes for heart attacks and strokes, which was the target before the pandemic began.”

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