HOSPITAL managers have apologised for “unavoidable” delays which saw dozens of ambulances queuing for more than 30 minutes to get patients into A&E.

In the 15 weeks between November 7 and February 19, a total of 722 ambulances were forced to wait at least half an hour to get patients admitted at Southend Hospital. The national average, recorded in official NHS targets for the same period was 418.

Under targets set by the NHS, ambulances are supposed to arrive, transfer patients and leave again within 15 minutes.

At Basildon Hospital, ambulances had to wait more than a half-hour on just five occasions over the same period, while Queen’s Hospital, in Romford, was also below the national average with 317 cases. At Colchester General Hospital, it happened 556 times, while Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, recorded 590 cases.

In the worst week for A&E delays at Southend, patients were kept waiting on 85 occasions, three times the national weekly average.

Hospital managers have blamed the delays on times when large numbers of patients have arrived simultaneously by ambulance.

Chief operating officer John Findlay said: “Our staff in the emergency department and across the hospital have worked extremely hard to ensure patients were seen in a timely and safe fashion and have a priority system to ensure the sickest patients are treated first. This did result in unavoidable delays for others, for which we apologise.”

Because of the delays, senior NHS officials visited the hospital to review the system for dealing with patients arriving by ambulance.

Mr Findlay added: “Earlier this month, we invited the national NHS Emergency Care Intensive Support team in to look at our processes to ensure we were doing all we could to stabilise our performance against our targets.

“The initial feedback was very positive about the progress which had been made with emergency patients, but the team has made a number of recommendations for further improvement, which we will be following.”

The East of England Ambulance Service is also working with the hospital to reduce the queues.

A spokesman said: “Our priority is to give our patients the best possible service and that includes a swift handover, so we are free to attend to the next emergency.”