NEW figures show ambulance waiting time in hospitals car parks is staggeringly longer than the 15 minute target.
It has been revealed that some patients are waiting more than six hours in ambulances outside hospital accident and emergency departments.
The top figures were in Wales (6 hours 22 minutes) followed closely by the East of England (5 hours and 51 minutes).
The Welsh Ambulance Service has missed its response time target for the most urgent cases for the 16th consecutive month despite an improved performance.
In Sussex and the East Coast the longest an ambulance has spent outside a hospital is 3 hours and 28 minutes.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show more than 10,000 hours were wasted by ambulances waiting outside the accident and emergency departments at Sussex’s major hospitals in 2011.
Ambulance bosses say the delays cost the service more than £1.3 million a year.
Patient campaigners described the figures as deeply worrying and warned that lives could be put at risk.
The waiting times include the time taken to hand over patients to A&E staff, restock and clean the vehicles.
The consequences of this is that it was take paramedics longer to get back out on the road and answering 999 calls.
Dr Aruni Sen, who is an A&E consultant at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and former chair of the Welsh Board of Emergency Medicine, explained why patient transfers occurred.
“It happens because the department is full and every single trolley bay is taken. If any patient has come by ambulance and could safely be put in the waiting room waiting to be seen by a triage nurse that patient can be offloaded,” he said.
Regardless of this, NHS England said waiting times were improving.
Margaret Thomas from Llangennech near Llanelli, told the BBC that she was left waiting in an ambulance outside A&E for three hours on New Year’s eve last year.
A Welsh government spokesman said that lengthy patient handover delays “are clearly unacceptable”, but added that the long delays were the “exception to the rule” as the average waiting times in Wales were around the 20-minute mark.
It has also been reported that Horsham has the worst 999 response times in Sussex.
A governing body meeting for the local commissioning group revealed that ambulances are failing to attend a large proportion of the most serious life-threatening emergencies in Mid Sussex within their eight-minute response target.
However, these problems have been a sore point for patients for years.
While the four-hour A&E waiting time target is being met nationally, there are many individual hospitals falling short.
More than half of the major A&E units – known as type 1 – are already in breach of it.
The number of non-emergency operations being cancelled and the delays being seen in discharging patients are also higher than they were this time last year.
These recent findings have been revealed amid mounting pressure on the NHS as winter gets under way although the Department of Health is reported to be providing £15million to ambulance services.