DOZENS of people waited over half an hour after arriving at A&E in an ambulance at the trust which runs Winchester’s hospital, new figures reveal.

As coronavirus cases soar across the district Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which also operates Andover and Basingstoke hospitals, is facing increasing pressure which is forcing paramedics to wait for longer to handover patients.

NHS England figures show 697 patients arrived at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust A&E by ambulance between December 21 and 27 – 32 had to wait between 30 and 60 minutes, and 10 had to wait even longer.

National guidance says patients arriving at an emergency department by ambulance must be handed over to the care of A&E staff within 15 minutes.

The busiest day was December 27, when 17 were waiting at least half an hour.

And on Christmas Day, there was one patient unable to be admitted to A&E within this time.

A delay does not necessarily mean the patient waited in the ambulance itself – but staff were not available to complete the handover.

Dr Lara Alloway, chief medical officer at Hampshire Hospitals, said: “The NHS across the country is under increasing pressure as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, coupled with the busy Christmas period and the winter challenges we always expect to see at this time. Hundreds of people arrive at the front doors of our emergency departments each week and we always do our best to prevent patients and ambulance crews having to wait at our hospitals.

“We’d ask everyone in need of medical advice to help us at this very busy time by using the NHS 111 service to get the care they need in the right place.”

A spokesperson for South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) added: “Unfortunately, there are times when we are unable to hand over patients to our colleagues in emergency departments within the 15 minute target from arriving at hospital. When these delays occur we have well-established escalation procedures and work with our NHS system partners to resolve these delays as quickly as possible and minimise the impact for any patients.”

Across England, 789 patients who arrived in ambulances to A&E had to wait at least half an hour on Christmas Day – among 9,283 across the whole week.

This was down from 13,050 who were delayed the week before and the 13,139 in the week of December 7-13.

Responding to the figures, health think tank the Nuffield Trust said the NHS is under “an enormous amount of pressure” at present.

Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the organisation, said: “The queues of ambulances that we have seen are likely to be the result of both the surge in Covid cases and reduced capacity in hospitals caused by staff shortages and infection control measures.

“This reduced capacity means that a similar or even a slightly lower number of ambulance arrivals can still result in a longer queue when they can’t offload.”

Data on delayed ambulance transfers is collected each winter by the NHS.

Since November 30, more than 45,000 patients in England were delayed for at least 30 minutes.

The British Medical Association said the announcement that millions more people will move into higher tier restrictions was the only way to keep us safe and “ensure more people don’t become seriously ill or die.”

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul added: “As we hear more reports of hospitals declaring major incidents, ICU beds reaching 100 percent capacity in parts of the country, and patients having to be transferred to other hospitals for care, it is vital that everything possible is done to bring down the spread of the virus.

“If we continue at this trajectory, the health service will struggle to get patients in urgent need of care, the care they need – we must all be able to depend upon the NHS.”

An NHS spokesman said: “NHS staff are now caring for record numbers of seriously ill Covid patients requiring hospital treatment. But they are doing so while also caring for substantially more emergency patients with other conditions than were in hospital during the first Covid peak in April.

“The pandemic has required changes to the way the NHS delivers care, with hospitals having to split services into separate Covid and non-Covid zones, so to protect individual patients some beds and ward bays have to be taken out of use.”