Thousands of 999 callers get taxis to A&E as ambulances wait longer than ever to get into hospital

Thousands of 999 callers in England are being told to get a taxi to hospital, an investigation has found. 

One ambulance service in the north of England said almost 2,400 patients categorised as seriously ill were taken to hospital by a cab in 12 months.

Guidelines say patients must be in a ‘stable condition’ before being advised to make their own way to hospital.

The figures come after damning statistics showed the pressure ambulance services in England are under already this winter.

The NHS showed last week that the number of patients facing long waits to be handed over from ambulances to hospital staff has increased by 75 per cent in the past year. 

Some 100,000 people got an ambulance to A&E in the first week of December – one every six seconds.

Thousands of 999 callers are being told a taxi will take them to hospital instead of an ambulance, an investigation found (stock image)

Seven out of 10 ambulance trusts in England responded to information requests from The Times about how many patients had been told to get a taxi.

In London, the number fell by 35 per cent from 2017 to 2018.

But outside of London the numbers increased by 83 per cent over the same period. 

In 2018 15 out of 1,000 calls answered by the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) led to the call handler recommending that the patient take a taxi – a rate of 1.7 per cent.

Every seven in 1,000 calls to the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) resulted in a cab journey, while the London Ambulance Service reported it was five for every 1,000.

More than 100 patients who were in the highest ‘seriously ill’ category were told they would need to take a cab by NWAS, based in Bolton.

A further 2,305 who hailed a cab were in the second most seriously ill category, the service said. 

Calls in category one are from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries such as cardiac arrest. Category two covers those that could potentially reach a critical stage and requires urgent transport.  

A patient is not advised to take a cab unless they are ‘stable’ according to NWAS, who serves Manchester, Cumbria and Derbyshire among other counties. 

NEAS, responsible for covering North East England counties such as Northumberland said 20 per cent of patients who take a taxi to hospital are assessed on the phone first.

The other 80 per cent of patients are checked by a paramedic, who normally arrives on a motorbike.


Officials are reminding people to only call 999 in a real emergency over the Christmas period.

Cambridgeshire Police told Twitter followers that a woman dialled 999 and told a police call-handler that she had eaten a chicken korma and thought she would be on the toilet for three hours.

Last month a man who repeatedly called the force and belched down the phone line was jailed for 24 weeks. 

 Welsh police were also prompted to issue a warning after a 999 caller reportedly asked where to buy Brussels sprouts. 

When to call 999 in a medical emergency:  

  • loss of consciousness
  • an acute confused state 
  • fits that aren’t stopping 
  • chest pain 
  • breathing difficulties 
  • severe bleeding that can’t be stopped
  • severe allergic reactions severe 
  • burns or scalds 

Call 999 immediately if you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke. Every second counts with these conditions.

Also call 999 if you think someone has had a major trauma, such as after a serious road traffic accident, a stabbing, a shooting, a fall from height, or a serious head injury.

Some ambulance services have partnered up with taxi companies to respond to 999 call requests, while others said they will arrange the cab themselves.  

An NHS spokesman said the service was ‘sensible’ because it helped patients who were the most in need.

They said: ‘Ambulance services are expanding and are responding to more and more calls and last month responded to almost 25,000 incidents every day, more than five per cent higher than last year. 

‘It can be entirely sensible for some patients to make their own way to hospital, which means paramedics are able to prioritise sick patients who need their expertise.’

It comes amid the NHS winter crisis in which hospital doctors warn the health service is ‘under the most pressure it has ever seen’.

NHS statistics showed that 11,785 out of 99,958 ambulance patients (16.3 per cent) waited between 30 minutes and an hour to be handed over to hospital staff in the week commencing December 9.

And a further 4,469 (4.5 per cent) waited longer than 60 minutes.

By comparison, in the second week of December 2018, 9.7 per cent of patients waited over half an hour (7,866 out of 96,284) and 1.5 per cent (1,491) waited more than an hour.

NHS guidance says patients should be handed over from ambulances to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arriving. 

Guidelines for ambulance response times are in place to avoid delays for medical help – 90 per cent of people whose life is in danger must be responded to within 15 minutes, while 90 per cent of problems which are the least urgent must be responded to within 180 minutes.

But last week, a mother who was forced to wait nearly six hours on a freezing pavement for an ambulance later died in hospital of a heart attack.

Donna Gilby, 47, from Cwmaman, left her flat just after 8am on Tuesday morning when she slipped and fractured her foot. She waited for hours for assistance covered in blankets outside her house.