There has been a sharp rise in the number of patients facing delays when they arrive at A&E in ambulances in England, figures show.
In the last week of 2017 there were 16,900 waits of more than 30 minutes – up by 40% on the previous week
Delays happen when A&E staff are not available for paramedics to hand over patients to.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has apologised for mounting problems in the NHS.
This week NHS bosses announced the cancellation of ten of thousands of non-urgent operations in an attempt to ease the pressure on hospitals.
Mrs May said she knew that cancelled operations were “difficult”, “frustrating” and “disappointing”.
Nursing in corridors
The ambulance delays happen when paramedics are forced to stay with patients to keep them safe.
Some have to wait in the back of ambulances, although many end up in waiting areas and side rooms before nurses and doctors become available.
One in four of the delays were of more than an hour.
Ged Blezard, director of operations of the North West Ambulance Service, said the delays caused a “number of problems”.
He said it slowed the response to 999 calls and compromised the safety of patients in A&E.
“We are nursing patients in hospital corridors. It is happening on a daily basis,” he said.
He said there were sometimes between 12 and 15 ambulances queuing outside A&E units at any one time with some of the longest delays last four or five hours.
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the figures showed the “shocking scale of the crisis in the NHS” and said ministers should be ashamed.
He said once you add up all the delays since the start of winter it meant there had been more than 75,000 patients “left languishing” before A&E staff could see them.
Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, which represents hospital managers, said the delays showed the “strain” the system was under.
“Despite planning more meticulously than ever before, the level of demand for services means severe pressures remain,” she said.
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The figures – released by NHS England as part of its weekly winter statistics publication – once again illustrate the pressure the health service is under.
At least 20 hospital trusts have had to declare major incidents this week – about one in eight of the total.
And two ambulance services have declared alerts and have even started asking 999 callers with less serious problems to make their own way to hospital so they can prioritise the most life-threatening calls.
The pressures prompted NHS England to order the cancellation of tens of thousands of non-urgent operations until the end of January in an attempt to ease the pressure on hospitals.
The move prompted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to apologise to patients.
Non-urgent treatments had already been cancelled until mid-January, but NHS England said on Tuesday that would now be extended to the end of the month.
Hospitals have also been given the green light to put patients on mixed wards to help ease the pressure.
The data released by NHS England also showed that a record number of calls were made to NHS 111, the free helpline, which was set up in 2014.
There were 480,000 calls – a 21% rise on the previous week.
Problems have also been reported in other parts of the UK.
The Welsh government said the health service was facing “significant pressure” and the chief executive of the NHS in Wales apologised to patients whose operations had been postponed.
Meanwhile, in Scotland there has been a 20% jump in A&E attendances compared with the previous year, prompting an increase in patients waiting more than four hours, and in Northern Ireland the Antrim Area Hospital has had to bring in St John Ambulance volunteers to help with a surge in demand.
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