TIMES for North East patients waiting for emergency medical attention have rocketed, new figures show.
In all but one hospital in the region, ambulances were taking longer after arriving at a hospital with a patient and then leaving again after a 999 call.
And seven out of eight failed to hit the Government target of 25 minutes from bringing a patient in to being ready again for the next emergency call.
A total of 19,345 hours were wasted across the region in the last year alone because of delays in clearing ambulances to go out on life-saving journeys.
Trevor Johnston, Unison’s officer for health in the North, put increased delays down to a lack of staffing in accident and emergency departments.
He said: “The Government cutbacks mean staff can wait up to an hour, an hour and a half for ambulances to be turned round. That has a bad knock-on effect on people being picked up.”
Delays had got worse across the country but were particularly bad in the North, Mr Johnston said. Ambulances sometimes had to be brought in from as far afield as Lancashire because of strains on the local service.
He added: “There need to be more resources poured into A&E departments, but at the moment there’s still pressure to cut staff.”
When the same figures were released last year, seven of the eight hospitals were meeting the 25-minute turnaround target as set out by the Department of Health.
Now all but one, Hexham General Hospital, have missed it, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Average times taken for a patient to be handed over to hospital staff and for the ambulance to be cleared increased by seven minutes at the University Hospital of North Durham.
Only the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle showed improved waiting times from 2010, but still missed ambulance targets.
A new target of 30 minutes for turnaround is set to be introduced in April.
A Department of Health spokesman called the results of our investigation unacceptable. He said: “Everyone should be seen quickly when they arrive at hospital, even more so when they arrive in an ambulance. It is unacceptable for patients to be left waiting in ambulances outside hospitals.
“Those hospitals and ambulance trusts with long delays in getting patients into A&E need to look closely at how this can be prevented by working better together.”
The North East Ambulance Service was working with hospitals in the region to achieve the best turnaround times possible, a spokesman for the service said.
“By communicating with each other daily, we try to forecast when peaks in demand may occur, and make appropriate plans,” he said.