AN Oxfordshire ambulance governor has raised concerns over health bosses' plans to reduce handover times at A&E departments this winter.

Last winter saw hundreds of patients forced to wait 30 minutes or more in the back of an ambulance at the John Radcliffe Hospital, with many enduring waits of over an hour.

Governor at South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), Steve Haynes, has now raised his concerns with some of the county’s NHS and social care leaders this week, admitting that he is ‘very worried’ about the system’s ability to cope this winter and sought re-assurance that plans for services were being put in place.

The SCAS governor was speaking at a board meeting of Healthwatch Oxfordshire, which had just received a presentation from health leaders on work being done to reduce the number of patients remaining in hospital unnecessarily, commonly referred to as bed blocking.

Mr Haynes said the work to reduce bed blocking was ‘very welcoming and interesting’ but sought clarity on other services.

Speaking after the meeting he added: “The key for ambulances is that they are able to respond to 999 calls, and so they have to be off-loaded as quickly as possible.

“Every ambulance that can’t off-load gives us a problem, it could potentially cause a delay responding to another emergency call.

“There has been a lot made of working as a system on the outflow of patients, I just want to understand that the same focus is being applied to the inflow.

“Nationally there’s a concern that this winter could be a very, very difficult one, and so it’s just seeking that assurance.”

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) has failed to meet its monthly target every month for the past year, with figures showing almost 20 per cent of handovers took longer than 15 minutes at the trust’s two A&E departments - something the NHS says should never happen.

OUH runs emergency departments at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and the Horton General Hospital in Banbury.

However in December when performance slumped to its worst at OUH, nearly 200 patients were forced to wait over 30 minutes, while 22 were stuck in the back of an ambulance for more than an hour.

This year health and social care organisations including OUH, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Oxfordshire County Council and SCAS are all working together under a joint winter plan in an effort to see the system cope better with the added pressures over the next six months.

Individually the JR has failed to meet its NHS target of 85 per cent for 15 minute transfers over the last 12 months.

The Horton, meanwhile, succeeded in achieving the target in May, June and July.

Health leaders have, however, said measures are being put in place to improve ambulance handover times this winter.

Chief nurse at Oxford University Hospitals Sam Foster, said: “The trust is equally focussed on appropriate admissions as well as discharges this winter.

“Some of the initiatives we’re working on with SCAS include paramedics calling ahead to our emergency departments to discuss transport options, and improving patient transport services to maximise capacity.”

Acting head of operations at SCAS Ross Cornett added: “We have a very positive, collaborative relationship with the trust, and this is demonstrated in handover times that are some of the best in the broader region – however, we are committed to improving these over the winter.

“By working with the winter team and the trust, we hope to achieve prompt ambulance handover and discharge from hospital this winter.”