Hundreds of patients waited for an hour or more before being handed over to A&E departments, NHS figures have shown.
During the NHS’ winter period, which ran from 20 November to 4 March, 471 patients in need of emergency care had to wait at least sixty minutes after they arrived by ambulance.
NHS England says no patient should have to wait longer than 15 minutes in an ambulance before being transferred to A&E. But figures show 1,443 emergency patients in Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust waited between 30 and 60 minutes before they were handed over.
In total, 9,969 people arrived by ambulance during the winter period.
The waits, known as handover delays, can be due to ambulance queues or slow processing at hospitals, and can have the knock-on effect of delaying paramedics being despatched to future emergencies.
The figures are taken from the NHS’ Winter Situation Reports, which are published weekly throughout the winter.
The reports also show hospital wards in Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust were operating close to capacity for much of this period.
On average, wards in Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust’s wards were 97.4% full this winter. This is well above the recommended safe limit of 85%.
In hospitals where more than 85% of beds are occupied, there is a greater risk of patients receiving inadequate care, being placed on an inappropriate ward for their condition, or contracting superbugs such as MRSA, according to the British Medical Association.
The figures show that every single bed in the trust was occupied on 2 days this winter.
And Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust only managed to meet the 85% target on 1 day during the entire winter period.
The average daily occupancy rate throughout England for this period was 94.4%.
In periods of particularly intense pressure, hospitals are forced to use temporary “escalation” beds. These are sometimes placed in areas not usually used for hospital patients, such as gyms or day care centres.
On 6 February, there were 45 escalation beds in use, which was the highest figure recorded during the reporting period.
When the crisis was at its peak at the start of the year, the NHS instructed hospitals to delay non-urgent treatment such as joint operations and cataract surgery to relieve pressure on accident and emergency departments.
And the latest figures for December and January show that hospitals in England also cancelled 601 urgent procedures such as cancer operations.
Source data: <https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/winter-daily-sitreps/winter-daily-