Ambulance chiefs' £5m jam-bust bill
Ambulance services spent more than £5 million hiring private firms and charities to help cope with winter delays at hospital accident and emergency departments, according to new figures.
Data obtained by Sky News through a Freedom of Information request also showed paramedics faced 42,726 hours of queuing outside hospitals during the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January this year.
The statistics, released by the 10 regional ambulance services in England, came after health bosses admitted A&E targets had been missed for the 21st week in a row.
The broadcaster reported ambulances were left waiting more than an hour to hand over patients on 11,203 occasions, while delays of more than half an hour occurred 39,523 times.
And the services paid a combined £3.79m for private ambulances to respond to calls and a further £1.23m on charity-run ambulances from organisations such as the Red Cross.
A spokesman for NHS England told Sky: "There has been an unprecedented level of demand for all frontline services this winter, which has put every part of the NHS under pressure.
"We have invested over £48m to give ambulance trusts extra capacity this winter to respond to this pressure."
Last week, NHS England said 92% of patients spent four hours or less in A&E from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge in the week ending February 22, below the target figure of 95% but a marginal improvement on the previous week.
The improved waiting times coincided with a drop in A&E attendances to 406,200 for the same period.