The number of patients who wait more than an hour to be transferred from an ambulance to Accident & Emergency in England has more than doubled in the last two years, new figures show.
According to NHS England, patients should be transferred from an ambulance to A&E within 15 minutes.
Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee reported that the target was being routinely breached, and had been met in just 53% of cases in 2015-16.
Now figures released under the Freedom of Information Act to Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, show the number of people facing lengthy waits in ambulance bays has increased sharply.
The figures for 10 of 11 ambulance trusts in England show the number of patients waiting more than one hour has more than doubled in two years, up from 51,115 in 2014-15 to 111,524 in 2016-17.
More than half a million people waited more than 30 minutes to be transferred, up from 289,264 to 509,062 in the same period.
The steepest increases were recorded at the London Ambulance Trust and the South East Coast Ambulance Service, both of which saw rises of more than 300% in delays of more than one hour.
Delays in transferring patients at hospital have a knock-on effect on the rest of the emergency system, and can contribute to delays in despatching ambulances to new cases.
Mr Ashworth said the figures were indicative of the strain on the health service and called on the Government to increase NHS funding in the Budget later this month.
I think this research is incredibly shocking and reveals that our hospitals in many situations are overcrowded and overwhelmed, and it’s because the Government I’m afraid are not putting in the funding that our NHS needs.
We are saying to the Government, to Jeremy Hunt, to Philip Hammond you’ve got a Budget coming up, you can do something about this. Put the extra investment into our NHS so that patients get the level of care that they deserve.
There can be many reasons for delayed transfers, but they are indicative of pressure on emergency departments.
Earlier this year NHS Improvement (NHSI) issued what it called tactical advice to hospitals and ambulance services about how to improve handover.
They warned that ambulance queuing can increase the risk to patients because of delays in treatment, increase risk in the community when no ambulance can respond, and waste resources.
NHSI said in 2016-17 over 41,000 12-hour ambulance shifts were lost due to queueing, and said their aim was effective patient handover from the ambulance team within 15 minutes… [and] ambulances being back on the road, ready to respond to further calls, 15 minutes later.
The Department of Health said NHS England and NHSI are working to reduce handover delays, and that they have recruited 2,600 more paramedics since 2010.
A spokesperson said: In the face of huge increases in demand, our paramedics and call-handlers are working exceptionally hard and answering 4,500 more 999 calls every day compared to five years ago.
Nevertheless, we expect patient handovers from ambulance to A&E to happen within 30 minutes and where delays occur hospital and ambulance trusts have a responsibility to make improvements.