AMBULANCES take nine minutes longer to get patients to hospital in areas where A&Es have been closed or downgraded, a study found.

Researchers say the trend of shutting casualty departments or turning them into minor injury clinics is causing “disruption” and “anxiety”.

And there is no evidence to support health chiefs’ claims that having fewer A&Es with more skilled doctors boosts patient outcomes.

Experts from the University of Sheffield analysed data on five emergency departments in England downgraded between 2009 and 2011.

They found local ambulances were bombarded with more 999 calls and crews spent longer with each patient due to lengthier journeys.

This meant they were not free to attend to other patients in need. Death rates remained unchanged following the downgrades.

Prof Jon Nicholl said: “It is important to highlight that we didn’t find the better outcomes for patients that planners hoped to see from closing these small departments either.

“This means it isn’t clear that the disruption and anxiety that can be caused by closing emergency departments is worthwhile.”

Emma Knowles, who also worked on the study, said: “The public require reassurance that the closure or downgrade of an emergency department does not result in increased death rates.

“The report suggests that any negative effects caused by an increase in journey time to an ED can be offset by other factors.

“For example, if new specialised services are introduced or if the care received at the now nearest hospital is more effective than that provided at the hospital where the ED closed.”

The study evaluated Newark, Rochdale, Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland and Hemel Hempstead before and after they were downgraded.

The study did not examine the financial costs or savings from A&E closures and downgrades.