Almost 8,000 ambulances have been forced to wait longer than an hour with patients at local hospitals with Craigavon suffering the worst delays.
More than 2,000 ambulances had to wait more an hour during patient handovers at Craigavon Area Hospital alone.
Across Northern Ireland there were 496 occasions when there was a turnaround of more than two hours. The target turnaround is 15 minutes.
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who received the statistics in an Assembly Question, described the ambulance turnaround times as ‘outrageous’.
Turnaround times refer to the time between an ambulance arriving at the emergency care department with one patient and ‘clearing’ the area.
Craigavon fared worst with 2028 ambulances waiting more than an hour from November last year to October this year. And on 170 occasions the turnaround times for ambulances were more than two hours.
A major contributory factor to these appalling turnaround times is a shortage of beds for new admissionsJo-Anne Dobson MLA
The Ulster Hospital fared the worst during February with 265 occasions for delays lasting over an hour and at Craigavon there were 244 occasions in March.
Mrs Dobson said: “When patients arrive at hospital many can’t afford to be waiting for excessive periods of time in the back of an ambulance vehicle while the hospital scrambles to find a bed or trolley to put them in.
“Many people call for the Ambulance Service when they are in a medical emergency and whilst our brilliant paramedics will be able to stabilise them, it’s essential that they are quickly admitted to hospital to receive the required medical care. Any delay can have major implications as it is medically proven that patients who are seen quickly have better outcomes than those who have to wait.
“These latest revelation of appalling ambulance turnaround times, indeed the figures for Craigavon Hospital are the highest across all hospitals in Northern Ireland, further illustrates the unprecedented crisis currently engulfing almost every aspect of our local health service.
“Turnaround delays can also have an impact on overall response times as ambulances are held back from taking on their next 999 call. Recently the Ulster Unionist Party revealed that the Ambulance Service target to arrive at the scene of emergency calls was missed over both of the last two years.
“The Health Minister needs to realise that reducing patient handover delays requires whole system working. A major contributory factor to these appalling turnaround times is a shortage of beds for new admissions. A key cause of this are other patients who are ready to be discharged but who have to stay because no care home or package of support in the community is available for them.
“Last year there were 68,000 delayed discharges, a fact again revealed following questioning by my Party, despite the fact that a bed costs on average £400 every day. Proactively investing in social care would in turn save our hospitals money and greatly reduce delays being experienced by new admissions.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Health Trust said: “The Trust is aware that the ambulance turnaround times in our acute hospitals can sometimes be longer than we would like. The Trust is working closely with the Ambulance Service to improve turnaround times. It is important to be aware that ambulance turnaround times include the entire time an ambulance spent at a hospital including the periods before and after patients have been handed over to the Emergency Department. No patient waits in an ambulance outside the hospital as they are brought into the hospital on arrival.”
In response to the MLA’s comments, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Ms Dobson has misrepresented my Department’s full reply to her question which clearly explains that the turnaround time includes the crew remaining with the patient until they are handed over to the relevant clinical personnel, as well as the time to clean and replenish the ambulance for the next call.
“Health and social care is not complacent about turnaround times, and hospital ambulance liaison officers from the Ambulance Service are deployed in all major Emergency Departments to ensure effective communication between the Emergency Department and ambulance control, particularly at peak periods when Emergency Departments are under pressure.”