More than 2,000 ambulance hours were lost in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year at two north London hospital trusts.  

The NHS has urged residents to get their flu and Covid jabs, saying a boom in respiratory infections is causing “record demand for urgent and emergency care”.  

The Royal Free London trust has urged people not to attend A&E in the first instance “unless it’s a serious or life-threatening emergency”, due to ongoing pressure. 


In seven weeks, from November 14 to January 1, NHS England said 1,800 hours were “lost to ambulance handover delays” at the Royal Free trust. 

The trust runs Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital, Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield and Barnet Hospital. 

A further 425 hours were lost at the Whittington Health NHS Trust, which runs Highgate’s Whittington and Tottenham’s St Ann’s hospitals.   

Between both trusts, the equivalent of 26 twelve-hour ambulance shifts were lost per week.  

The figures were published as ambulance workers across the country walked out on strike over pay and working conditions. 

Across all London trusts, 18,537 hours were lost to ambulance handover delays in the final seven weeks of 2022. 

The Royal Free’s 1,800 lost hours was the sixth worst of 24 London trusts.  

“Like hospitals across the country, our emergency departments are very busy and staff are working incredibly hard to ensure patients, including those who arrive by ambulance, can be seen as quickly as possible,” it said. 

“We have taken a number of measures to try to reduce waiting times, including opening an additional short-stay ward to create more capacity within our hospitals.” 

The trust asked people to call 111 or visit before attending A&E, other than in serious emergencies. 

The Whittington trust said: “We do everything we can to safely bring patients arriving by ambulance into our hospital as quickly as possible and the figures show that we are able to offload the majority of ambulances within 30 minutes.  

“However, we acknowledge that recently because of large numbers of people needing our emergency and inpatient care we have had to hold more patients on ambulances for longer than usual and we apologise to those patients affected.” 

It said it was working to discharge patients quicker to free up beds. 

The trust asked people to call 111 or visit before attending A&E, other than in serious emergencies. 

“We have however prepared for winter like never before,” the spokesperson said, citing “more beds, extra 111 and 999 call handlers, expanding the use of 24/7 control centres across the capital... and additional respiratory hubs”. 

“But with flu hospitalisations and Covid cases remaining high, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible,” they added. 

The London Ambulance Service said: “From Thursday 12 January, NHS England have asked London hospitals to support the timely handover of patient care and the release of our crews within a maximum of 45 minutes where it is safe and appropriate to do so.

"It is important to note that hospitals assume clinical responsibility for the patient 15 minutes from the arrival of an ambulance.

"With support from the five Integrated Care Systems in the capital and all London hospital trusts, this ground-breaking policy is the first of its kind and will allow patients in an emergency to receive the care they need sooner.”