Dramatic increase in waiting time for ambulances in Swanage

High demand for ambulances in Swanage and the wider Purbeck area means average waiting times are now far longer than the national guidelines.

A newly released Freedom of Information request, obtained by Swanage News, shows the average waiting time for even the most urgent life-threatening cases is now more than double what it should be in Swanage.


For less urgent emergencies, waiting for a double crewed ambulance can run at more than four times the national guidelines.

Deterioration in response times

This is a dramatic deterioration in response times compared to two years ago in Swanage and a reflection of the increased pressure on the whole of the NHS during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for South Western Ambulance Service (SWAST) said this was a problem not limited to Swanage and Purbeck – but a regional and national issue across the health system.


Waiting times for ambulances exceed national guidlelines

Significant increase in demand

The Freedom of Information request notes that demand for Category 1 and Category 2 calls has ‘increased significantly’, with the ambulance trust seeing the highest levels of demand for these categories over the last three years.

Category 1 calls are from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries and demand an immediate response, such as in the case of a cardiac arrest or major allergic reaction.  

Category 2 emergencies include serious conditions like a stroke or chest pain and are deemed to require rapid attention.

An average 15 minute wait for most urgent patients

The figures for October 2021 show that Category 1 calls in Swanage took an average of 15 minutes to respond to, against national guidelines of 7 minutes on average, and 90 percent within 15 minutes. That compares with just over 6 and a half minutes in 2019.

For Purbeck, the figure for Category 1 calls was 11 minutes, up from 7 minutes two years earlier.

Coastguard, ambulance car and ambulance at Lulworth
Kimmeridge Coastguard

An ambulance works with the coastguard during an incident at Kimmeridge

Response times significantly longer than compared to two years ago

In Swanage, the response time for Category 2 calls has doubled over two years, from nearly 37 minutes in 2019, to one hour and 13 minutes in 2021. The average is supposed to be 18 minutes, with 90 percent of cases reached within 40 minutes.

In the wider Purbeck, the response time for Category 2 calls has gone up from 28 minutes in 2019, to 1 hour and twelve minutes in 2021.

Cases deemed to be Category 3 that still involve urgent needs like pain relief and require transfer to acute facilities, take an average of 3 hours and forty minutes to respond to in Swanage, 4 hours and 9 minutes in Purbeck. Ninety per cent are meant to be dealt with within 2 hours.

Swanage ambulance station

The response time for Category 2 emergencies has doubled in Swanage

“We are sorry”

A South Western Ambulance Service spokesperson said:

“We are sorry that the waits for ambulances to arrive are longer than we would expect, and we apologise for this wholeheartedly.

“The ambulance service is extremely busy and we continue to prioritise the most clinically urgent cases. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for their patience and understanding, and our staff for their focus, continued commitment and hard work.”

The future of Swanage ambulance car is under review

Ambulance car

The news comes at a time when the future of the ambulance car based in Swanage, hangs in the balance.

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which funds the ambulance car, is currently reviewing the car’s future.

In March 2020, Dorset CCG said it was planning to withdraw the service, but local protests, combined with the Covid crisis, meant the car was given a stay of execution.

The ambulance car, usually staffed by a paramedic, does not have to travel long distances taking patients to hospital in Poole, Bournemouth or Dorchester, so is effectively ‘tethered’ to the local area and can often get to patients in Purbeck, quicker than an ambulance.

Ambulance and police vehicles

Ambulance responding to a Category 1 emergency in Swanage

Average ambulance response time within Swanage

Category 1

  • Oct 2019: 6 min 41 sec
  • Oct 2020: 12 min 55 sec
  • Oct 2021: 15 min 11 sec

Category 2

  • Oct 2019: 36 min 51 sec
  • Oct 2020: 43 min 19 sec
  • Oct 2021: 1 hour 13 min 14 sec

Category 3

  • Oct 2019: 1 hour 17 min 39 sec
  • Oct 2020: 1 hour 15 min 50 sec
  • Oct 2021: 3 hour 40 min 54 sec

Average ambulance response time within Purbeck

Category 1

  • Oct 2019: 7 min 19 sec
  • Oct 2020: 9 min 18 sec
  • Oct 2021: 11 min 19 sec

Category 2

  • Oct 2019: 28 min 06 sec
  • Oct 2020: 27 min 13 sec
  • Oct 2021: 1 hour 12 min 10 sec

Category 3

  • Oct 2019: 1 hour 17 min 29 sec
  • Oct 2020: 1 hour 15 min 45 sec
  • Oct 2021: 4 hour 9 min 30 sec

National guidelines

According to SWAST, national standards are: 

  • Category 1 – Response time 7 minutes on average, and 90 percent within 15 minutes
  • Category 2 – Response time 18 minutes on average, and 90 percent within 40 minutes
  • Category 3 – Response time 90 percent within 120 minutes (no average)
Lulworth Coastguard

There is high demand for ambulance services across Dorset

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.


Top stories

Three weeks of roadworks to begin in Corfe Castle Just in time for the new school term, a three-week lane closure on the A351 at Corfe Castle begins on Monday 15th April 2024. 1 month ago More Purbeck visitors urged to take trip to Brownsea 2 months ago Heritage loco derails during Swanage Railway diesel gala 6 days ago Swanage nightclub transforms into top new venue 1 month ago Open invitation to explore one of Swanage’s best kept secrets 3 weeks ago

Most recent

New sanctuary garden officially opened in Swanage Designed as a quiet place to sit and reflect, a beautiful garden has been created in Swanage for cancer charity Cancare, made possible by a generous bequest from a local ... 1 hour ago Purbeck’s first shuffleboard tournament to raise funds for skatepark 1 day ago Sounding good – launch of new radio station for Purbeck 2 days ago Flying the Blue Flag for Swanage again 3 days ago Purbeck back on TV for Channel 5’s Big Steam Adventure 4 days ago