AN increase in delays in the time it takes to find patients a hospital bed could present a risk to life, it has been warned.

Thousands of patients at hospitals in the North-East and North Yorkshire are waiting more than four hours between the time it takes for a doctor to decide to admit them and them being admitted for emergency treatment.

Regional figures show there were more than twice as many people waiting several hours for a bed following "a decision to admit" in the second quarter of 2019, compared to the same period last year.

Earlier this month, the BMA claimed more than a million patients could face huge waits in A&E as the NHS braces itself for its “worst-ever” winter, while almost a third of a million patients could be left waiting on trolleys for treatment.

Northern Echo analysis for eight of the region’s trusts found that 6,683 people admitted to hospital waited more than four hours to be assigned a bed between July and September this year, with 39 patients at York Teaching Hospitals waiting more than 12.

NHS data for the same period in 2018 reflects 3,153 similar delays, a difference of 112 per cent. In comparison, statistics for England show a difference of 41 per cent.

Figures for York Teaching Hospitals showed a 2019 total more than four times higher than 2018, with 343 cases recorded then, compared to 1,944 this year. South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust figures rose by 130 per cent – from 587 to 1,349 – while figures for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust rose from 1,625 to 2,755.

From the comparable data available, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust were the only trusts in the area to see a drop in the number of patients waiting, from  170 people to 78 and from one person to none, respectively.

Trust and NHS England representatives said an ageing population and increased demand, have contributed to the problem. However, the difference between emergency admissions, according to the quarterly data for the trusts concerned, is just six per cent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Conservatives are giving "the biggest cash boost ever" to the NHS.

But Dr Paul Williams, who is defending his Stockton South seat for Labour in the upcoming election, said: “The system is completely blocked up, it is paralysis and it is symptomatic of a whole system that is really struggling.

“Beds are often unavailable because hospitals are unable to discharge people into the community. This is due to a lack of investment, not just in hospitals but with social care and community health services – we can’t send vulnerable people out of hospital without people to look after them.

"It has an impact on everyone and there is a risk to life - it is hard to attribute a death to a wait and people are safer in hospital than anywhere else, but there is a risk."

BMA North-East council chair Dr George Rae called for urgent investment, adding: “This is further evidence of the crisis facing the NHS in the North-East, as pressures on services continue to grow and is a worrying indicator of the chaos laying in store this winter.

“Rather than experiencing recovery during the summer period, lack of resources and investment has left many hospitals unable to get on the front foot as pressure mounts on an already over-burdened system.

“Patients in the North East should expect to receive care in a reasonable time and should not face the daunting prospect of waiting on a trolley.

“Staff too should not be expected to work in an environment where they are continually over worked and over-stretched and their own health suffers as a result.

“We need to see urgent investment and resources reach the frontline in the North East this winter and crucially, we must see sustained investment across primary and secondary care if the situation is going to ever improve.”

An NHS spokesman said hospitals will open more beds in the coming weeks and urged the public to help staff by getting flu jabs and using 111 for non-emergencies. He said redesigned services meant more patients were being seen quickly than a year ago.

He added: “The latest performance figures show that while NHS staff are looking after a markedly higher number of older and sicker patients, a higher number of patients are being seen quickly than a year ago.

“While hospitals will be opening more beds over the coming weeks, the public also have a role to play going into winter, and can help doctors, nurses and other staff by getting their flu jab, and by using the NHS 111 phone or online service as a first port of call for non-emergencies.”

A spokeswoman for the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Like many NHS organisations nationally, we continue to see an increasing growth in the demand for services and are busier than we were during the same period last year.

"We are caring for a growing, ageing population with increasingly complex clinical needs.

"We have dedicated teams who continue to work incredibly hard to care for lots of unwell patients and to provide the best experience possible under these increasing demands.”