Ambulances in London will only wait for 45 minutes at A&Es - if patients are stable - before leaving them on hospital trolleys in corridors, a letter leaked to ITV News has revealed.
It comes amid rising pressure on the NHS with paramedic teams reporting spending entire shifts outside hospitals before being able to handover patients to medical staff.
And earlier today (Tuesday, January 3), an email was sent to management at hospitals across the capital informing them ambulances would now time-limit their waits.
NHS sources stressed the announcement is not a blanket policy and said handover decisions would be made in the patients’ best interests and depend on clinical judgement.
The email, shared with ITV’s Paul Brand, states: “From January 3rd we are asking that any patients waiting for 45 minutes for handover… are handed over immediately to ED [emergency department] staff allowing the ambulance clinicians to leave and respond to the next patient waiting in the community.”
It continues: “If the patient is clinically stable the ambulance clinicians will ensure that the patient is on a hospital trolley or wheelchair/chair and approach the nurse in charge of the emergency department to notify them that the patient is being left in the care of the hospital and handover the patient.”
Commenting on the plans, palliative care doctor and campaigner Rachel Clarke said the plan "isn’t safe".
She wrote on Twitter: “This isn’t safe. This isn’t a solution. There aren’t the ED beds, the ED doctors, the ED nurses, the ED spaces.
“Or is the proposal here merely to pile up more patients in ED corridors?”
In light of the move, the Liberal Democrats have called for a major incident to be declared across London.
Lib Dem health spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: "This move shows the shocking reality of the NHS crisis and is yet further proof that a major incident must now be declared across London.
"The health secretary must act now to save the capital’s hospitals from being overwhelmed. Corridors and waiting rooms are already full with patients coping with severe pain. The government cannot wait any longer to act.”
She added: "London’s NHS is collapsing before our eyes. Ministers have spent months arrogantly dismissing or ignoring all warnings from senior health leaders and MPs.
"This is now a life and death situation for Londoners. The government needs to recall Parliament immediately, declare a major incident and above all else, pass a plan to get the country out of this health crisis before more people die."
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow secretary for health and social care said: "The fact that the NHS is having to resort to these desperate measures not only shows the depth of the crisis it is facing, but lays bare the fact that they have no confidence that the government will step in and fix things.
"Labour would be giving the NHS the focus and energy it needs and doing everything possible to ease the pressure right now without compromising patient safety, but sticking plasters aren’t enough.
"The NHS simply doesn't have the staff it needs to treat patients safely and on time.
That's why we will undertake one of the biggest expansions of the NHS workforce in history, training the staff needed to provide care for patients paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status."
A spokesperson for the NHS in London said: “The NHS is experiencing record demand for urgent and emergency care.
“We are working across London to speed up ambulance handovers at hospitals- where it is clinically safe to do so - so ambulance crews can get to more people who are unwell in the community.
“This is one of many ways we are strengthening the NHS response this winter, along with more beds, extra 111 and 999 call handlers, more ambulance clinicians and expanding the use of 24/7 control centres across the capital for urgent and emergency care."
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has been approached for comment by LondonWorld.