Nearly one in four patients arriving at hospitals in England by ambulance last week waited at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E departments, new figures show.
Some 19,099 delays of half an hour or more were recorded across all hospital trusts in the seven days to January 2, according to NHS England.
This was 23% of all arrivals by ambulance, up from 13% the previous week and equalling the level recorded in early December.
Some 10% of patients waited more than an hour to be handed over – again, the joint highest so far this winter.
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in an ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but there were no staff available to complete the handover.
The figures give a snapshot of the pressure hospitals in England were facing in the period immediately after Christmas, however.
Analysis of the data by the PA news agency shows that University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust reported the highest number of delays of at least 30 minutes last week (826), followed by North West Anglia (524), University Hospitals of Leicester (494), and Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals (487).
University Hospitals Birmingham also topped the list for delays of more than an hour (404), followed by University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (326), Gloucestershire Hospitals (323) and University Hospitals of Leicester (303).
A total of 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508).
The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.
Separate figures published by NHS England on Friday show that 63% of patients with coronavirus in hospital in England on January 4 were being treated primarily for Covid-19.
This is down from 67% a week earlier and 74% at the start of December.
But the total number of patients treated primarily for Covid-19 is continuing to increase, up from 5,578 on December 28 to 8,200 on January 4.
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 but being treated primarily for something else rose week on week from 2,743 to 4,845.