More than 100 A&E patients waited over 30 minutes before entering Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust after arriving in ambulances, new figures reveal.
The Nuffield Trust said the NHS was under enormous pressure, with the queues of ambulances seen across England in recent weeks likely caused by the surge in coronavirus cases and reduced capacity.
NHS England figures show 976 patients arrived at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust A&E by ambulance between December 21 and 27 – 75 had to wait between 30 and 60 minutes, and 48 had to wait even longer.
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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 Boxing Day, when 28 were waiting at least half an hour.
And on Christmas Day, there were 15 patients 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.
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.
In Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust, there have been 581 delays in the past four weeks.
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 per cent 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."