THE number of ambulances arriving at hospitals in Worcestershire went up by 160 over the Christmas period.

The high pressure on the county's hospitals meant there were more than 1,200 times when paramedics had to wait for more than 30 minutes outside sites in December.

Roughly 28 per cent of the 4,339 ambulances which arrived at hospitals in Worcester, Redditch and Kidderminster, in December, were stuck outside for over half an hour.

There were 265 times when these waits exceeded an hour and 943 times when they lasted between 30 and 60 minutes.

However, the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said fewer patients had had to endure long waits to be admitted to wards.

A watchdog has blamed these ambulance delays on the 'overwhelming' number of patients in hospitals.

Simon Adams, chief operating officer for Healthwatch Worcestershire, said: "I think they are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people.

"They don't have enough beds for the people who need to be there hence they put people in corridors and chairs.

"The ambulance waits and delays are symptoms of the capacity issues they face.

"A lot of our problems in Worcestershire go back to a PFI (private finance initiative) build that wasn't big enough.

"It's not seen as good practice to hold someone in an ambulance. It's clearly not very comfortable."

Mr Adams added that, despite the ambulance waits, the watchdog has not received any reports from patients.

He said: "The feedback from the NHS is that they are coping better than last year."

A spokesman for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said: "Throughout Christmas and the New Year period we have seen - and continue to see - very high levels of demand.

"We have seen a year-on-year increase in people coming through our emergency departments and with higher than expected numbers of seriously ill patients arriving by ambulance every day throughout the holiday period we have experienced periods of considerable pressure.

"The number of ambulances arriving at our sites in December increased by 160 compared to last year.

"Over the Christmas period (December 22 to January 2) on average, Worcestershire Royal Hospital saw an additional five per day and the Alexandra Hospital an additional seven per day.

"Despite this, fewer patients are having to endure long waits to be admitted to a ward."

The spokesman added that they have implemented a winter plan, recruited staff, increased bed numbers, opened a frailty unit and expanded Worcester's ambulatory emergency care unit.

The Trust urged members of the public to make use of the alternatives to A&E, such as minor injuries units.

Mari Gay, chief operating officer for Worcestershire’s Clinical Commissioning Groups, which buy health services, said: “During extremely busy periods when we see high numbers of patients arrive by ambulance it can sometimes impact on how quickly they are seen.

“We understand that this can cause delays and are continuing to work closely with our health and care partners, including West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, to do everything we can to reduce waiting time.”

Hospitals usually come under extra pressure during the winter months due to an influx of elderly patients, who typically suffer from complex conditions making them particularly vulnerable to viral-related illnesses