The NHS’s first winter update shows a desperate situation for ambulances in East and North Herts. 

Figures for the East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs Lister Hospital in Stevenage, lay bare the number of ambulances that have been forced to wait before transferring patients to hospital staff. 

Statistics for waiting times will be published weekly throughout the winter, and the first set of data has just been published.

It covers the week from November 14 to 20, during which 277 patients arrived at hospital by ambulance. 

Crews had to wait 30 minutes or longer for 81 per cent of these patients, and 146 of these transfers - more than half of the total number - took an hour or more. Overall, 381 hours were lost to ambulance handover delays within that week.


These figures are substantially worse than the national average. Across England, crews had to wait 30 minutes or longer in 29 per cent of cases. Of the 134 NHS trusts with available figures, only six had a higher percentage of delays than East and North Herts.

The NHS guidance is that all transfers must happen within 15 minutes of arrival at hospital. 

The delays in East and North Herts are also substantially worse than previous years. In the first week with available data from the winter of 2021-22, crews had to wait 30 minutes or longer in 27.5 per cent of cases. And in the equivalent week from 2019-20, the last pre-pandemic winter, crews had to wait 30 minutes or longer in 16.4 per cent of cases.

Back in September, a queue of more than 30 ambulances was reported at Lister Hospital.

Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said that: "These crippling delays are a twin threat - they cause significant harm to patients who are forced to wait in the back of our ambulances, while our crews are stuck and therefore unable to respond to patients who need us out in the community.

"As the colder winter weather approaches we have serious concerns that things will get worse in the coming weeks and months.

"The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays, and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis."

A spokesperson for East and North Herts NHS Trust said: “Both our adult’s and children’s emergency departments have seen very high demands this autumn.

“We are continuing to work with our system partners to support community care for those who do not need to be treated in hospital, to safely discharge patients faster, to improve patient flow and free up capacity within the emergency department.

"This includes improving and expanding our same day emergency care department where patients can receive emergency care away from the main emergency department.

“We would encourage those with minor illnesses or injuries – such as burns and scalds, suspected broken bones and sprains – to attend the New QEII Urgent Treatment Centre in Welwyn Garden City if you can.

"The waiting time will be shorter and this frees up the staff at Lister to deal with those who most require the services on this site. 

“Alternatively, we urge the public to speak to their local GP, pharmacist or contact NHS 111 by visiting or calling 111 so they can direct you to the most appropriate care.”