THE number of sick and injured patients in the south waiting more than 30 minutes in an ambulance outside hospital before being transferred to A&E has increased by a third in the last two years, new figures have revealed.

According to NHS England, patients should be transferred from an ambulance to an A&E within 15 minutes.

However, figures for South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which serves Hampshire, revealed that the number of patients waiting more than 30 minutes rose from 9,445 in 2014/2015 to 12,607 in 2016/2017.

Meanwhile, the number of those waiting more than an hour went up from 3,757 in 2014/2015 to 3,927 in 2016/2017.

The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act to Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth amid concerns being raised about the effect such delays could have on the rest of the emergency system.

Mark Ainsworth, director of operations at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “When crews are unable to hand over patients within the target time of 15 minutes following arrival, this can impact the responsiveness of our service to patients calling 999, especially if crews are delayed waiting at hospitals for significantly long periods.

"Across the South Central region, we have on average one ambulance per 23,000 people during the day and one ambulance per 35,000 people at night. Any delays at local A&Es can therefore have a significant impact on our ability to get to all patients as quickly as we would like.”

But Mr Ainsworth reassured patients saying the Trust had an agreed handover plan with local hospitals to alleviate the impact of handover delays on the ambulance service.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “In the face of huge increases in demand, our paramedics and call-handlers are working exceptionally hard and answering 4,500 more 999 calls every day compared with five years ago.

“Nevertheless, we expect patient handovers from ambulance to A&E to happen within 30 minutes and, where delays occur, hospital and ambulance trusts have a responsibility to make improvements.”