HEALTH bosses have blamed timewasters for patients being stuck in ambulances when they get to hospital.
Figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request have revealed huge delays in people being actually admitted to Accident and Emergency after being taken to hospital by ambulance.
Paramedics are only allowed to hand patients over to hospitals when staff there can take charge of them.
One patient was forced to wait two hours and 12 minutes outside Sunderland Royal Hospital.
NHS guidance recommends that patients should wait in ambulances for no longer than 15 minutes, and delays of more than 30 minutes in England can lead to fines.
At University Hospital North Durham, a patient was made to wait three hours and 43 minutes.
In total, 820 Sunderland patients were made to wait more than 15 minutes in three months between August and October.
A spokeswoman for North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) today blamed the delay on patients not using A&E correctly.
Sunderland has seen a rise in admissions between seven and eight per cent over the past year, whereas nationally there has only been a rise of between three to five per cent.
The spokesman added: “Hospital handover delays are a problem being experienced around the UK. It is not something unique to the North East. We have been working hard with local hospitals to try and improve the situation.
“It’s important to keep some perspective though, and remember that lengthy handover delays are the exception rather than the rule. Ambulances cannot simply drop off patients – the paramedics have to wait until the patient is accepted into hospital care. The general public can play a massive part in helping the ambulance service and hospitals by only using 999 or the A&E departments when it is a genuine emergency.
“Roughly 40 per cent of people in the country currently heading to A&E do not actually need to be there. And it’s this extra and unnecessary volume which inevitably causes delays.
“As for actual ambulance response times, NEAS is currently one of the highest performing services in the country – reaching almost 80 per cent of the most serious cases in the North East within eight minutes.”
Howard Graham, public relations officer for (RLN) City Hospitals Sunderland, said: “Patients experiencing a long wait in our emergency department (A&E) is unacceptable and something which the trust is working hard to minimise. We would ask members of the public to remember that EDs (A&Es) are for emergencies only, and to consider if they can seek alternative help for minor conditions such as by using NHS Helpline 111, minor injuries units, GPs, pharmacies or self help.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Winter is setting in, but David Cameron is still dangerously complacent about the crisis in England’s A&Es.’’