Hundreds waited more than an hour in queuing ambulances outside North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust hospitals this winter

Peterborough City Hospital
Peterborough City Hospital

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, 1,433 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 2,347 emergency patients in North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust waited between 30 and 60 minutes before they were handed over.

In total, 13,791 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 North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Peterborough City Hospital, Hinchingbrooke Hospital and Stamford Hospital, were operating close to capacity for much of this period.

On average, wards in North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust's wards were 94.9% 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 busiest day for the hospital during the winter period was 4 March, when 98.5% of all beds were full.

And figures show North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust was operating above this safe limit for 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 14 February, there were 43 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.