MORE than 100 patients were forced to wait more than an hour before being handed over to accident and emergency staff in the first full week of January, figures have revealed.

NHS England data shows 1,560 people arrived at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust A&E by ambulance in the week to January 9.

Of them, 427 (27 per cent) waited more than 30 minutes before being handed over to A&E staff, with 138 (nine per cent) waiting more than an hour.

This was up from 22 per cent waiting over half an hour the week before.

The NHS has a target of 15 minutes for ambulance handovers, but only delays longer than 30 minutes are recorded.

Hospitals across the country are grappling with staff absences and an increase in demand, while ambulance handover delays and bed blocking are adding strain on services.

The data also shows an average of 456 staff were off sick because they had Covid-19 or were self-isolating due to the virus each day in the week to January 9 – accounting for 37 per cent of absences.

This was down from the week before when 40 per cent of staff were off for Covid-related reasons.

Chief nurse for the NHS trust Maggie Davies said: "Like many other NHS trusts across the country, we are extremely busy across our hospitals. We are seeing an increase in patients coming to our hospitals and we are still seeing staff absentees, for Covid related reasons.

"We've seen a reduction in ambulance handover times recently and an increase in the number of medically ready patients being discharged from hospital, although this still remains a significant pressure on our hospitals.

"This is a further testament to the commitment and expertise of our incredible staff who are working extremely hard to maintain services and care for our patients in these challenging times."

Ms Davies also said the best way for the public to help the NHS is to get vaccinated, and urged people coming to hospital to take a lateral flow test before and wear a face mask.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said Omicron had increased the number of people in hospital with Covid, while “drastically” reducing the number of staff able to work.

He said: “Despite this, once again, NHS staff pulled out all the stops to keep services going for patients.

“But staff aren’t machines and with the number of Covid absences almost doubling over the last fortnight and frontline NHS colleagues determined to get back to providing even more routine treatments, it is vital that the public plays their part to help the NHS by getting your booster vaccine.”

Separate figures show bed blocking was also causing issues at trusts across England, with 72 per cent of patients deemed fit to leave hospital on January 9 failing to be discharged.

At University Hospitals Sussex Trust, 390 patients were eligible for discharge on January 9, but just 143 (37 per cent) left hospital.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for routine treatments are also at an all-time high nationally, with six million people waiting for non-urgent elective operations or treatment at the end of November, up from 5.98 million the month before.

NHS England figures show 536 more patients joined waiting lists at University Hospitals Sussex Trust in November, bringing the total to 103,985 at the end of the month.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the NHS was unprepared for the pandemic and had no “spare capacity” when the Omicron variant hit.

He said: “Now patients are paying the price, waiting months and even years for treatment, often in pain, distress and discomfort.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund, said long waits for care were becoming increasingly common.

He said: “We must remember these are not just big numbers – they are people living with pain and anxiety while they wait for months and, in some cases, more than two years for treatment.”

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