South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust will leave patients waiting to be admitted to accident and emergency departments in order to respond to emergency calls during busy periods.

Ambulance staff usually stay with patients and carry out clinical observations on those with non-life threatening conditions when their admission to A&E is delayed.

However, under the trust’s new policy, when an ambulance has been delayed for more than 45 minutes the crew will leave a patient waiting at the department before they have been admitted.

The policy has been introduced to prevent delays to ambulance staff responding to 999 calls.

A trust spokesman said this policy would only be used on rare occasions when the waiting time at a hospital is judged to be “seriously compromising our capability to reach patients seeking emergency help”.

The ambulance service covers a number of hospitals that are struggling with A&E performance, including Medway Foundation Trust.

It has also received a higher number of emergency calls than anticipated in the year to date up to October.

It is currently missing the 75 per cent target to respond to the most serious calls (category A) within eight minutes, with 74.4 per cent of calls responded to within that time.

There were 2,034 patients left waiting for over an hour in ambulances to be handed over to A&E between January and October.

A trust spokesman said: “After communication with hospital trusts across our region, this week we introduced a new escalation policy regarding the handover of our patients to hospitals. The policy, which is already in operation in other areas of the country, has been put in place to allow us to provide the clinical service for which we are commissioned: responding to 999 calls across our region.

“The policy will ensure that, only under certain conditions, our crews are able to withdraw from cohorting patients at hospitals in order to respond to 999 patients. It will not be deployed routinely, but when the ambulance waiting time at a hospital is judged to be seriously compromising our capability to reach patients seeking emergency help.”