More than 8,000 patients waited longer than an hour to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff at hospitals in England last week, new figures show.
A total of 8,401 delays of more than 60 minutes were recorded across all acute trusts in the seven days to December 12, according to NHS England.
This is up slightly from 8,211 in the previous week, and represents 10% of all ambulance arrivals.
A further 11,102 patients waited between 30 and 60 minutes to be handed over, down slightly from 11,155 in the week to December 5.
It means nearly a quarter (23%) of all arrivals last week were kept waiting for at least half an hour – the same proportion as the previous week.
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.
The figures give a snapshot of the pressure hospitals in England are continuing to face heading into the Christmas period, however.
Analysis of the figures by the PA news agency shows that University Hospitals Birmingham reported the highest number for an individual trust in the week to December 12 (472 delays of more than 60 minutes), followed by Portsmouth Hospitals University (354), University Hospitals of North Midlands (320), Gloucestershire Hospitals (282) and University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (281).
University Hospitals Birmingham also topped the list for delays of at least 30 minutes (957), followed by University Hospitals of North Midlands (563), North West Anglia (488), Portsmouth Hospitals University (465) and Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals (464).
The 8,401 delays of more than 60 minutes in the week to December 12 was nearly twice the number for the equivalent week last year (to December 13 2020).
Just 5% of arrivals in that week had to wait more than 60 minutes for a handover, compared with 10% this year.
And 15% of arrivals had to wait at least 30 minutes, compared with 23% this year.
Ambulance handover delays are likely to have been influenced by the volume of patients who were medically fit but who were not able to be discharged.
On average more than half of inpatients (54%) fit to be discharged each day last week did not leave hospital, for reasons such as a lack of space in care homes or pending an agreement with local social services over levels of support.
On December 12, the most recent date for which figures are available, out of 16,030 patients in England who were medically fit to leave, 11,114 (69%) were still in hospital.
Responding to the figures, Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Staff are continuing to go above and beyond looking after thousands of seriously ill Covid patients, delivering hundreds of thousands of jabs into arms every day while continuing to deal with higher levels of pressures for this time of the year.
“No-one wants to spend more time in hospital than needed, and local NHS services are continuing to work closely with social care providers so patients can be discharged when they’re fit to leave.
“As the NHS once again ramps up to deal with what is going to be an incredibly challenging winter, the best thing you can do to help is to come forward and get your jab.”
Out of 131 acute trusts who had patients in critical care every day last week, five had no spare beds.
Dorset County Hospital, George Eliot Hospital, Portsmouth Hospitals University, Royal United Hospitals Bath and Sherwood Forest Hospitals reported 100% occupancy of all “open” beds each day from December 6 to 12.
The number of A&E diverts last week – when an ambulance is temporarily diverted to another hospital – was 28, three more than the previous week.
There were nine diverts by University Hospitals Birmingham, eight by Worcestershire, four by Stockport, three by South Tyneside & Sunderland, two by Rotherham, one by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals and one by University Hospitals Sussex.