Soaring numbers of sick patients are being forced to wait in ambulances outside Accident & Emergency departments amid a deadly “epidemic” of delays, health officials have warned.A Telegraph investigation reveals record waits in casualty units, with patients spending up to nine hours in parked ambulances or with paramedics in hospital corridors before being seen by a doctor or nurse.Emails seen by this newspaper reveal that orders have been given to abandon patients in hospitals after 30 minutes, so that paramedics can return to their duties. Last night one of Britain’s most senior A&E doctors warned that hospitals had reached a state of “gridlock” with safety at risk and patients “crammed in like sardines”.Official guidelines state that handovers from ambulances to hospitals should take no longer than 15 minutes. Number of patients waiting at least 2 hours for handover2013/14 2,1242014/15 4,8332015/16 10,031 London: 9 hours 3 minutes Queen Elizabeth II, Woolwich MarchNorth West: 8 hours 37 minutes, Southport District Hospital, JulyYorkshire 6 hours, 24 minutes, Scarborough District Hospital AprilEast Midlands 6 hours 21 minutes, Leicester Royal Infirmary JanuaryEast of England: 6 hours 6 minutes, Broomfield Hospital, FebruarySouth Western: 5 hours 29 minutes, Dorset County Hospital, JulyNorth East: 4 hours 40 minutes, Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, MarchSouth East Coast: 4 hours 35 minutes, Royal Surrey County Hospital, AprilWest Midlands 4 hours 31 minutes. Royal Shrewsbury, April South Central: 4 hours, Queen Alexandra Hospital, March A number of redundancies [were made] to reinvest about £10million savings in ongoing pay costs into frontline servicesAmbulance trust Official statistics show growing pressures on the NHS Credit:Chris Radburn /PA Number of patients waiting at least 4 hours for handover2013/14 1262014/15 1742015/16 405Source: FOI disclosures But Freedom of Information (FOI) disclosures show that the number of patients subject to longer delays has risen by 64 per cent in just two years, with almost 400,000 cases in 2015/16.Emails seen by this newspaper disclose fury among ambulance trust chief executives at the “unacceptable risks” being posed to patients.They said 999 response times were deteriorating because paramedics were being forced off the roads for long periods, to care for patients queuing for A&E care.In one message, the head of East of England ambulance Service trust said handover delays had reached “epidemic proportions” – with a “completely unacceptable” impact on 999 performance.In the email, Robert Morton told NHS trust chief executives across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire that in future, paramedics would have to abandon patients after 30 minutes. Carol Wilson died after a paramedic told her to take paracetamol for chest pains Longest handover delay recorded by each ambulance service, 2016 so far More than 10,000 patients waited at least two hours before handover to a casualty unit in 2015/16 – a five-fold rise in just two years.More than 400 of the waits lasted at least four hours.They included delays of more than nine hours at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Woolwich in March of this year and a hold-up of 8 hours 37 minutes at Southport District Hospital in Merseyside, in July.Dr Chris Moulton, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the safety of patients was at increasing risk, because of the numbers of ambulances being forced off the roads.“The flow in hospitals has become gridlocked, the risks to patients aren’t acceptable,” he said.“You’ve got all these ambulances waiting at hospitals, patients stuck on trolleys for 12 hours, crammed in like sardines,” said Dr Moulton, an A&E consultant at Bolton NHS Foundation trust. “There are safety risks to those patients, because they aren’t getting proper care, and there are wider safety risks to all those patients in need of an ambulance, who are forced to wait longer,” he said, calling for extra funding, and an increase in the number of hospital beds across the NHS. The documents reveal increasingly tense exchanges between senior managers in the health service, as A&E and ambulance response times deteriorated.One letter from Anthony Marsh, chief executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service, told the then chief executive of Worcestershire Royal Hospital: “Our managers in Worcestershire are having to stop doing their jobs and go to the hospital to care for your patients, in your corridors, in our hospital.” The letter, sent in March last year, was followed by a warning the next month that the situation had become “totally unacceptable”.NHS targets say 75 per cent of 999 calls classed as potentially life-threatening calls should receive a response within eight minutes.But in the last two years, national performance has plummeted. In the first eight months of this year, one in three urgent calls did not receive a response within in the NHS eight minute target, with more than 1.1 million cases classed as “life-threatening” forced to wait longer.In the last year, the ambulance service has had an 11 per cent rise in calls, while visits to A&E have risen by more than six per cent.An NHS England spokesman said: “These figures demonstrate the increasing rise in demand for both ambulance and A&E services over recent years. Although there are occasions when it is necessary and best for the patient that their handover is delayed while they are, of course, still receiving care from skilled ambulance staff, this has to be reduced wherever possible.” Number of patients waiting at least 30 minutes for handover2013/14 239,7722014/15 319,8562015/16 393,446 The message, sent in March, was met with anger from hospital bosses, who said A&E performance was “on a knife edge” and that abandoning patients would put them in too great danger.In another email, the head of South Central Ambulance Service – which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire – tells a local hospital chief executive that delays at her hospital “exceed acceptable levels”.The warning to the chief executive of Portsmouth Hospital trust, sent the same month, describes “grave concern” about the consequences for those in need of a 999 response. The disclosures from the country’s 10 ambulance trusts reveal record delays at hospitals across the country. Jeremy Hunt has been questioned about the ability of the NHS to cope amid growing strain Credit:PA Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.