THE shocking extent of ambulance delays at North East Wales’ hospitals has been laid bare.
More than 17,000 patients waited for longer than they should have in ambulances outside the two main hospitals last year.
The figures, revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Leader, showed that the target 15-minute handover time for patients from ambulances into hospital was not met 17,077 times at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Glan Clwyd Hospital, Bodelwyddan, in 2013.
One patient had to wait a staggering seven hours and 22 minutes outside Glan Clwyd Hospital, with another waiting seven hours.
At Wrexham Maelor Hospital, one patient had to wait six hours and five minutes until they were handed over.
Some patients from North East Wales are taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital.
The Welsh Ambulance Service said handover delays are an issue “of great concern” but said in general the “vast majority” of patients are handed over within the 15 minute target.
Community leaders have expressed their shock.
North Wales AM Aled Roberts said the situation had become “intolerable”.
“These figures show that there are major challenges with the performance of the ambulance service.
“We need to know what action is being taken to deal with the issue of delays in accident and emergency departments because the situation is becoming intolerable for patients and it must be very frustrating for staff within the service.”
At Glan Clwyd Hospital, 33 patients waited between four and five hours in ambulances, 10 waited between five and six hours and one person waited six hours. At Wrexham Maelor Hospital, eight people were forced to wait for between four and five hours, while two waited more than five hours.
The figures cover the period between January 1, 2013 and New Year’s Day this year.
Delyn MP David Hanson said: “It is clearly a problem which is caused by many complex reasons, but which needs addressing urgently.”
A spokesman for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) said an increase in seriously unwell people being brought to the hospital’s emergency units with complex needs is rising nationally and contributing to the the jams.
He said people were often taking longer to assess and diagnose, and often needed to stay longer, which increased pressure on beds.
At the two hospitals, 178 patients waited between three and four hours before being handed over in 2013 – 120 at Glan Clwyd Hospital and 58 at Wrexham Maelor.
Almost 600 patients had to wait between two and three hours, with 343 of those at Glan Clwyd Hospital and 254 at the Maelor.
There were 2,215 people having to wait between one and two hours before being handed over at the two hospitals – 1,117 of those were at Glan Clwyd Hospital, while 1,098 were at Wrexham Maelor.
Of the total number of patients waiting more than 15 minutes, 8,953 waited outside Glan Clwyd Hospital while 8,124 were outside Wrexham Maelor Hospital.
Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami said: “This remains an area of concern and there hasn’t been the progress that we would have liked to have seen.”
The BCUHB spokesman said: “The health board is carrying out studies to try to understand better the changing demands being placed on our A&E departments and to identify ways to improve the flow of patients through the system.
“Some of our biggest challenges have been at Glan Clwyd Hospital and the new Emergency Quarter which is due to open next month will help streamline how care is organised for emergency patients.”
He added that people with less serious illnesses could get better care at high street pharmacies, their GPs, NHS Direct and the minor injuries service.
A Welsh Ambulance Service spokesman said: “Handover delays are of great concern to us and cause difficulties not only for our staff and patients, but also our ability to respond to 999 calls in the community.
“In general, the vast majority of patients are handed over within 15 minutes and we continue to work with local health boards, including Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, to ensure individual delays are escalated to senior managers at all affected hospitals, and that plans are in place to ensure delays are minimised.
“Ambulance crews continue to provide clinical care and attention for patients as they wait to be admitted into hospital and liaise with hospital staff to help prioritise those patients with greatest clinical need.
“Critically ill patients remain our number one priority and are handed over as quickly and as safely as possible to hospital staff to avoid further delay and distress.
“In addition, the trust supports the discharge and transfer of patients out of hours to release beds in hospitals which, in turn, supports the improvement of patient flow in the emergency departments.
“We are working to a new Alternative Care Pathways system designed to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and support care close to patients’ homes.
“We encourage the public to ‘Choose Well’ and use NHS services appropriately; NHS Direct Wales, out-of-hours GP services and pharmacies are all available for healthcare for minor illnesses and injuries.
“Remember to only dial 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk – let’s keep emergency ambulances for emergencies.”