HUNDREDS of ambulances were left waiting outside Warrington Hospital’s A&E department for up to an hour during December, with dozens more emergency vehicles delayed by even longer.

But hospital staff who ‘deliver little miracles every day’ have been praised for their work in the face of winter pressures.

NHS figures showed that ambulance handover times at Warrington Hospital’s A&E exceeded the 15 minute target a total of 411 times last month.

Ambulances waited between 30 and 60 minutes 277 times – accounting for 12 per cent of all emergency vehicles sent to the hospital – while a further 134 were delayed by more than an hour.

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, 68 ambulances waited for 30 to 60 minutes at A&E while 53 were delayed by an hour or more.

The busiest time during this period was Boxing Day, when 16 ambulances waited between half an hour and an hour.

However, the trust says it has seen a 'significant' improvement in ambulance handover times this week.

Professor Simon Constable, deputy chief executive and executive medical director at Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We are working hard with the North West Ambulance Service to reduce the number of ambulance waits at busy times at the hospital as it is really important that they are able to hand over patients to us efficiently.

"There have been occasions over the festive period when the department has been particularly busy with urgent cases or serious accidents that have led to longer than recommended handover times.

"This situation fluctuates, as this week we have seen a significant improvement in our ambulance handover times.

"We urge people to only call 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency - if you need medical help the NHS choices website, pharmacies, GPs, urgent care centres and NHS 111 are available."

Meanwhile, the number of vacant beds at Warrington Hospital over the Christmas period was slightly lower than the recommended safe amount

While the NHS recommends a maximum bed occupancy rate of 85 per cent, Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was 86 per cent full in the week leading up to the New Year.

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, 484 of 561 beds were in use on average – including 35 temporary escalation beds.

In total, 22 per cent of beds were occupied by patients who had been in hospital for three weeks or longer while half had been there for more than a week.

Of the 137 NHS trusts in England, only around a dozen met the 85 per cent bed occupancy rate target during the festive period.

The release of these figures comes after all non-urgent operations were cancelled at Warrington Hospital between Wednesday and Sunday last week, following ‘sustained pressure’ from emergency admissions.

NHS England instructed all of its hospitals to postpone non-emergency surgery, with around 55,000 procedures cancelled nationally.

Operations and outpatient appointments scheduled to take place at Halton Hospital were also reviewed by the trust.

Professor Steven Broomhead, chairman of Warrington Borough Council’s health and wellbeing board, met with Warrington Hospital bosses this week to discuss winter pressures faced by the trust.

He has since praised staff and pointed to high numbers of people suffering from flu as a contributing factor.

Mr Broomhead said: “I have been very impressed by the strong multi-agency focus on patient care and flows from the hospital doorway to back home.

“There is a real commitment from the staff to provide the best patient experiences at our local hospital.

“At all times I have noticed the real attention to adopt caring, solution-based and patient-centred approaches.

“All the staff are so hard working, often working many hours over and above their contracted hours.

“It’s always easy to make criticism of our health and care provision, but the people of Warrington need to know that little individual miracles are being delivered in our local hospital every day.”