Paramedics are not being sent to thousands of 999 calls as London Ambulance Service struggles to cope with a record number of emergencies.
The service today revealed that crews were not being dispatched to about 2,400 patients a week to enable it to target resources on the most seriously ill.
In addition, crews are no longer being routinely sent to police incidents. Instead, officers on the scene are asked if medical back-up is required – saving an ambulance in about half of cases.
The LAS attended 11,322 “category A” incidents such as cardiac arrests and stabbings between November 14-20, the most in its history and 15 per cent more than the same time last year.
Only 66.4 per cent of crews arrived within eight minutes – the NHS target is 70 per cent. This was fractionally better than last year but lower than bosses expected.
Overtime costs are 50 per cent over budget and a recruitment freeze has been imposed for non-operational staff. Private and voluntary ambulance services are being used for 1,000 hours of shifts a week.
Bosses fear demand will soar further into winter. Last month it used “surge purple enhanced” rationing measures on three occasions to handle the crisis, ensuring help was sent to the sickest patients first.
This meant that others, such as elderly people feared injured in a fall, typically wait more than an hour for help. Patients judged not seriously ill enough for an emergency response are told to dial the NHS 111 helpline or given advice over the phone by a paramedic.
LAS director of operations Paul Woodrow said: “So far this year we have attended nearly 1,500 category A incidents every day and an average number of 3,200 incidents overall.
“To help us cope with this unprecedented demand we’ve recruited hundreds more frontline staff and have dozens more ambulance crews treating patients across London – every day.”
The BBC today revealed that crews across the country wasted more than half a milion hours in 2015/16 stuck outside A&Es unable to offload patients. In London, the LAS said it was working with hospitals to minimise delays before crews were able to respond to the next call.
Mr Woodrow said: “We will continue to prioritise our ambulance crews so we get to the most seriously ill or injured patients first.
“Londoners with less serious injuries and illnesses can further help us this winter by calling NHS 111, visiting their GP or pharmacist, or alternatively making their own way to hospital.”