250,000 'had long wait outside A&E'
More than a quarter of a million patients waited for half an hour or longer in ambulances outside hospitals in the last 12 months because of the "crisis" in accident and emergency departments, according to figures obtained by Labour.
Between September 2012 and September this year, 255,640 patients were kept waiting outside English hospitals for at least double the 15 minutes recommended by NHS guidance.
Hospitals face fines for delays of more than 30 minutes, but the figures show that the number of patients exceeding that time limit has increased by 40,000 on the previous year.
Between September 2011 and September 2012 the figures obtained by Labour under the Freedom of Information Act showed 215,117 patients in ambulance queues outside hospitals breached the 30 minute limit.
The figures were disclosed as Labour prepared to hold an A&E summit with staff from hospital departments and the ambulance services to discuss the situation.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: " These figures reveal that ambulance services were struggling to cope before the winter has even begun.
"Thousands of frail, older people are being wrongly held in the backs of ambulances outside A&E because hospitals are full. And yet David Cameron and his ministers deny that A&E is in crisis.
"This dangerous complacency can't go on. That is why, in the absence of leadership from the Government, Labour is today holding an A&E Summit in Westminster to hear directly from front-line staff and identify measures that may help ease the pressure.
"With ambulances stuck in queues, large swathes of England are being left without adequate ambulance cover. That is why response times are getting worse and patients are facing agonising waits for ambulances to arrive.
"David Cameron's fingerprints are all over this A&E crisis, his failure to face up to it is now having a serious knock-on effect on ambulance services and it is yet more proof you cannot trust him with the NHS. He must act now if all 999 calls are to receive the right response this winter."
Separate figures uncovered by the BBC found some patients were forced to wait for hours outside A&E units that were too busy to deal with them.
In one case, a patient in Wales was made to wait more than six hours before being admitted, while another in England was delayed for more than five hours.
Paramedics are only allowed to hand patients over to hospitals when staff there can take charge of them.
The figures were released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act after it asked all UK ambulance services for their longest waits for the 12 weeks from August to October.
The longest delay, of a patient waiting for six hours and 22 minutes, occurred in Wales. Each weekly maximum wait there for the period was more than three hours.
In the east of England one patient was forced to wait five hours and 51 minutes, while Scotland had the best record, with none of the weekly maximum waits longer than two hours.
Northern Ireland and the Isle of Wight failed to provide data, the BBC said.
Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said the figures were "alarming".
Barbara Hakin, deputy chief executive of NHS England, said an extra £14 million for extra staff and equipment over the winter months had been allocated.
She said: "NHS England recognises it is essential ambulances are back on the road as soon as possible after taking patients to A&E, though we know it is sometimes in the best interests of patients' safety that they remain in the ambulance after they have arrived at the hospital."
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