Nearly 1,200 emergency calls to West Midlands Ambulance Service went unanswered during July as staff struggled to cope with surging demand.
Unprecedented strain was placed on call handlers during the month as the ambulance service received a record number of calls.
It resulted in a staggering 1,196 calls being abandoned by people who had dialled 999 – 38 every day on average.
Only twice in the previous two years had more than 100 calls been abandoned in a single month and never in that period had the total been more than 267. Unanswered calls in July rocketed to 42 times the previous month.
The region’s ambulance service faced a crisis during July and issued a plea for people only to ring 999 in an emergency. The number of people calling more than once to check where their ambulance was also compounded the problems and caused frustration for bosses.
Dozens of new call handlers have been brought in to help the service cope with the rising demand.
Increasing Covid cases and warm weather are thought to be partly behind the sudden surge in calls from June onwards. Bosses said the service remains under “severe pressure”.
The struggles were representative of a national trend and WMAS said despite its problems it still had the best answering performance in the country in July.
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New figures obtained by BirminghamLive illustrated the scale of the problems faced by the service during the summer.
Answered calls for a single month rose above 100,000 for the time since at least 2018 in June. A total of 103,621 emergency calls were answered that month. The total then surged to 129,063 the following month before falling slightly to 110,402.
The total calls during the summer months were higher than even December and January, when the service is traditionally busiest around Christmas and New Year. The record for the service’s busiest day was broken several times during July.
The average time taken to answer 999 calls, which is traditionally around a second, rose to 12 seconds in July before falling to three seconds in August.
Unanswered calls came down to 186 in August but that figure was still higher than any other point for 18 months.
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A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: “During July, West Midlands Ambulance Service had the best call answering performance in the country, but unfortunately, we were not able to answer all of the emergency calls that were made, for which we apologise.
“The additional funding announced by NHS England in the summer means that we are recruiting hundreds of new call assessors, dozens of whom are now taking emergency calls.
“Local NHS services were and remain under severe pressure; hospital handover delays unfortunately mean patients are waiting longer for an ambulance response, which results in patients ringing back to find out where their ambulance is.
“If you have called 999 and an ambulance has been arranged for you, please do not call back asking for a time of arrival as this could delay us speaking to another patient who needs our help.
“Only call back if the patient’s condition worsens or you no longer need our help.”
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