South Western Ambulance Service recording longest response times in the country
The ambulance service in the West Country has recorded the longest response times in the whole of the country.
The South Western Ambulance Service (SWASFT) said longer waiting times are being caused by handover delays, when patients are transferred from paramedics to hospital staff.
It says it is now under "the most sustained period of pressure in its history".
SWASFT's response times for life-threatening and emergency incidents in September were found to be the slowest of any ambulance service in the country.
Will Warrender, chief executive of SWASFT, said: "The real thing that has changed and is having a crippling impact on our ability to perform as a service, is our ability to get our patients into hospital as quickly as possible.
"Two years ago, on an average week, we would lose about 400 hours in handover delays.
"On Tuesday 19 October, one single day, we lost 900 hours. I think that says it all."
It comes as Derriford Hospital in Plymouth said it is making extra space for Covid patients as cases continue to rise in the West Country, while health bosses have warned they're under increasing pressure.
The hospital has now set aside 55 beds for those specifically with coronavirus, as it is seeing five new patients with Covid being admitted every single day.
'We are very sorry'
Kevin Baber, the hospital's CEO said: "The emergency department has been under pretty much sustained pressure for a prolonged period of time.
"In the last 24 hours, we had over 320 patients attend and over 100 of those were brought by ambulance.
"As a consequence of that, some patients have experienced really long delays and we are very sorry for that.
"Ambulance handovers have been an issue for us as well and there have been times when patients have had to wait to be handed over to our emergency department.
In Plymouth alone, there have been more than 1100 new coronavirus cases in the past seven days.
But it is feared the problem is affecting the whole region.
A paramedic working in Cornwall tweeted on Tuesday, 19 October that she was "currently 23rd in the queue, out of 25 ambulance crews waiting to enter" the Royal Cornwall Hospital.
Faye Shepherd added: "There's a palpable sense of concern amongst staff... It's not even winter. Help."
Those working in healthcare are once again urging people to ring 111 first, before attending hospital.
Hospitals across the region are also asking people to collect relatives who have been discharged, in order to free up beds for those who need them.
It comes as the latest data revealed the South West has the highest rate of Covid cases of any region in England.