More than half of Staffordshire's ambulances queue outside Stoke hospital on New Year's Eve

At lunchtime on New Year's Eve, Sky News counted 24 ambulances parked outside the A&E department at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

A nurse from inside the hospital was coming out to check on patients who were waiting in the ambulances receiving treatment from paramedics.

A member of ambulance staff told Sky News that their official dashboard showed 32 ambulances were stuck waiting to transfer patients at the hospital.

They said the additional seven must be waiting round the back after all the space at the front of the hospital was taken.

And they said there were only 56 ambulances covering Staffordshire currently, so more than half of the available ambulances for the county were stuck waiting at one hospital.

Dennis Hodgkins is a paramedic and representative of the UNISON union who works in Staffordshire.

He told Sky News the situation was the "worst we've ever seen".

Some Category One calls - like heart attacks or anaphylactic shocks - have taken him 25 minutes to respond to, compared to a target time of around seven minutes due to a lack of available vehicles because of the queues.

"The chances of survival are going to be reduced massively" in such circumstances, Mr Hodgkins said.

The incident comes amid warnings from health leaders that waiting times at A&Es are likely to be the worst on record this winter as hospitals struggle to cope with demand due to flu, COVID and Strep A.

Figures from NHS England show that last month, around 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted to a hospital department - up by almost 355% compared to the previous year.

And numerous trusts have now declared "critical incidents", including University Hospitals North Midlands (UHNM) - which runs Royal Stoke University Hospital - as well as South Western Ambulance Service, University Hospitals Trust Leicester, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Buckinghamshire Healthcare, and University Hospitals of North Midlands.

St John Ambulance's Mike Gibbons has asked for people not to "get drunk for the sake of it" when they head out for New Year's Eve to avoid increasing pressure on already struggling services.

'Severe pressure'

Medical director of the UHNM trust, Dr Matthew Lewis, said there is "extremely high demand" for all of its services, as witnessed by Sky News, saying both Royal Stoke University Hospital and County Hospital in Stafford had been "under severe and sustained pressure over the Christmas period".

And he said the "challenging situation" was likely to continue over the New Year bank holiday period, with A&E hardest hit due to a lack of beds and waits of longer than 12 hours for some patients.

Dr Lewis said the hospital would be opening additional beds and increasing medical and nursing shifts throughout the bank holiday period, adding: "We will always do our best for patients and keep patients safe and locally we are working with our NHS and local authority partners to put in place measures to ensure that people who need hospital and emergency care can get treatment quickly and to identify and utilise any additional capacity to allow us to discharge patients and free up our beds.

"We continue to ask the public to help us by only using A&E in a serious or life threatening emergency and for their help when we're discharging their friends or loved ones to ensure they're picked up from hospital as soon as possible and have everything they need at home."

West Midlands Ambulance Service, which covers Royal Stoke University Hospital, confirmed the figures of queuing vehicles, with a spokesman telling Sky News: "The ambulance service relies on each part of the health and social care system working together so that our ambulances can get to patients in the community quickly.

"Sadly, the pressures we are seeing in health and social care lead to long hospital handover delays with our crews left caring for patients that need admitting to hospital rather than responding to the next call.

"The result is that our crews are delayed reaching patients."

The spokesman added that the service was "working incredibly hard with all of our NHS and social care partners to prevent these delays, looking at new ways to safely hand over patients quickly so that our crews can respond more rapidly and save more lives".