THOUSANDS of patients in the region were left waiting in ambulances at the doors of accident and emergency departments last year because wards were too full.

Figures obtained by the Labour party show in the year 2013/14 almost 300,000 patients in England were left in ambulances for more than 30 minutes in the UK.

In the North-East 4,524 patients spent more than half an hour and 1,317 spent more than an hour waiting to be admitted for emergency care in A&E.

Loading article content

In Yorkshire, 10,469 patients were left in ambulances for more than 30 minutes and 1,456 waited more than an hour. The longest single wait recorded in the North-East was three hours and 52 minutes.

Labour obtained the statistics under Freedom of Information requests conducted on all ten ambulance trusts in England.

Labour's shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "Handover delays occur when ambulance crews cannot transfer a patient to casualty departments because of staff or bed shortages.

"Thousands of vulnerable people, many of them elderly and frightened, are being wrongly held in the backs of ambulances because hospitals don't have the space. And yet ministers deny that A&E is in crisis.”

A Department of Health spokesman said it was making £28m available for ambulances from funds already given to the NHS this year and long-term were looking to reduce demand at hospital emergency departments by caring for people better in the community,

"People rely on ambulances coming quickly in life and death situations and long handovers are completely unacceptable,” said the spokesman.

"We're already making good progress in reducing the number of patients waiting for 30 minutes or longer - down by almost a third last winter - though there's always more the NHS can do.

"We are providing extra support, including £28m for ambulances from funds already given to the NHS this year, to keep services sustainable year-round. In the long-term, we want to reduce demand by looking after people better in the community."

In a bid to help solve the problem of ambulances queuing up outside hospital casualty departments, the Government introduced penalty clauses for ambulance services where there have been delays of more than 30 minutes or an hour. The fines system looks at the whole turn-around time of an ambulance, which includes the time it takes to restock and get the emergency vehicle back out.

Regional health unions say the fines for NHS trusts achieved little other than taking vital resources away from the very areas where pressures existed in the first place.

A spokesman for Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust said it was working to bring down handover times in a number of ways, and had introduced information screens in hospitals to give medical professionals prior knowledge of the patients prior to arrival.

“We continue to work with our healthcare partners across the region and collaboratively to minimise and avoid delays.

“To support effective handovers we have introduced information screens in emergency departments so hospital clinicians have prior knowledge of and can prepare for all patients being transported to them by ambulance.”