AMBULANCES are queuing for up to two hours outside hospitals before they are able to handover patients, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Paramedics warn it is only a matter of time until the delays - which also hampering their response to other 999 calls - result in a patient's death.

Staff at both Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) and North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) say they are experiencing delays in handing over patients at many of the region's hospitals.

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However, they described the situation at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, as "dangerous".

One experienced paramedic told The Northern Echo: "Somebody is going to die somewhere down the line and it could be the most vulnerable, children.

"Families of sick people arrive at hospitals and expect to find them in a bed, but they are still outside in an ambulance. The frustration of ambulance staff is beyond belief."

Bosses at James Cook which has been trying for months to reduce handover delays, said an increase in numbers of very sick patients meant at times there is not enough cubicles or staff to cope.

The news comes as 17 NHS hospitals in England - including Scarborough Hospital - were identified as having dangerously low staffing levels following inspections by the Care Quality Commission.

Paramedics say that as queues of up to ten ambulances "stack up" outside the hospital for up to two hours, their ability to respond to 999 calls is curbed.

This has resulted in ambulances from as far afield as Lancashire being brought in to cover other emergencies.

Health watchdogs have described the situation as "grave" - particularly as ambulances face longer journeys as more hospital services are moved to regional centres of excellence.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust said while James Cook's accident and emergency department was designed to provide for 60,000 cases per year, it now expects to handle 105,000 cases.

Susan Watson, operational director, said: "It is certainly an unacceptable situation. The whole team are working together to try and address this.

"We know we are struggling with patient flow. This is not about money, it is about patient care."

"We are seeing a real surge in demand from very sick patients, but it is going to take some time for us to create both physical capacity and staffing numbers.

"We are looking at redesigning the department to cope. Clearly to receive the patient we have to have a cubicle to put the patient into."

It is understood that as a consequence of ambulance staff working maximum overtime due to the wasted hours, it has resulted in a reduction in the number of operational ambulances at some North Yorkshire stations  at weekends.

YAS chairman Della Cannings said that a lack of NHS performance targets focusing on patient handover times meant hospitals lacked incentive to improve.

However, a spokesman for the NHS Commissioning Board said that from April, it would expect that all ambulance handovers would take place within 15 minutes and that both hospital and ambulance trusts face an escalating fine for delays exceeding 30 minutes and an hour.