Ambulance crews “lost” nearly two million hours while waiting to hand over patients to A&E staff in England last year, a report claims.

Patients arriving at an emergency department via ambulance should be handed over within 15 minutes, according to national guidance.

In December 2012 there were an estimated 5,226 handover delays over an hour, but last December there were 66,000, the report said.

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives said that in the 12 months to March, nearly two million hours were lost due to delays exceeding the target.

But it admitted that longer delays “have shown signs of receding” since the start of this financial year but still “remain very high”. It warned they can lead to patient harm and can keep ambulances from getting back out on the road to attend to other emergencies.

The report states that since 2011 hospital handover delays have “increased steadily”. The trend had started before the pandemic.

Martin Flaherty, managing director of AACE, said: “We have seen significant improvements in some areas [but] it is clear from the data that we remain in a precarious position.

“There is subsequently no room for complacency and considerable work for us all to continue to do to prevent handover delays.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “As AACE acknowledges, the number of delays has fallen since the start of the year alongside substantial improvements in ambulance response times and A&E performance.”

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