The number of patients forced to wait in ambulances outside England's A&E departments has almost doubled in three years, according to figures obtained by the Labour Party under a Freedom of Information request.

Despite national guidelines stating that the handover process should take no more than 15 minutes, the data revealed that 279,207 ambulances were delayed for more than half an hour, with a further 30,601 reporting delays of over an hour. The longest reported wait was eight hours and 11 minutes at a hospital in the West Midlands.

Dr Cliff Mann from the College of Emergency Medicine, told the BBC:

"It is our view that emergency departments should have sufficient capacity to meet demand, and that means ambulances should be able to transfer patient into departments immediately on arrival.

"It has been clear that this has been difficult to achieve at times. This problem is symptomatic of the pressures emergency departments are facing."

Linda Millband, joint head of the clinical negligence team, commented:

"The waiting times outside England's A&E departments are concerning, and show that there needs to be a review and changes to ensure patient care is the priority.

"Thousands of vulnerable patients are facing huge delays outside hospitals as they wait for treatment, at an already frightening time for them. These statistics highlight the problems in the system that need to be dealt with to ensure a better standard of care for patients.

"This is not only a problem for the patients waiting to be transferred to the care of staff in an A&E department, but also means that paramedics and ambulances are stuck outside hospitals, rather than responding to other emergency calls.

"Pressures on paramedics and A&E departments are only likely to increase further during the winter months so this is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed."