PATIENTS in Thurrock could be taken to hospital in taxis because of an ambulance crisis.
Ambulance bosses have made the suggestion after it was revealed that crews are unable to attend hundreds of emergencies each day due to delays handing over patients to hospital A and E departments.
The amount of hours lost due to handover delays has almost doubled in the county over the last three months.
In a report, East of England Ambulance Service chief executive Robert Morton said using taxis could be a solution to the rising demand.
He said: “We are exploring whether using taxis would be a viable option to collect and convey patients who may need a hospital medical assessment, but who do not have serious or life-threatening injuries and who are perfectly mobile.”
The service has warned performance issues could continue due to the traditionally busy Easter period and upcoming strikes by junior doctors.
The amount of hours lost in December due to handover delays was 1,574, but the figure rose sharply to 2,270 in January and to 2,638 last month.
In his report, Mr Morton added: "Hospital delays are a significant and worrying influence on trust performance and has a direct impact on the trust’s ability to reach patients within the community in an appropriately timely manner.”
Across the East of England, the service has calculated that delays of 15 minutes or more when handing over patients at hospital’s over a three month period was equivalent to 1,488 ambulance staff shifts.
It estimates that, during a typical 12 hour period, this means 115 patients requiring an ambulance cannot be reached.
Mr Morton said the service has drawn up an emergency action plan in response to unprecedented demand.
He said: “In February the number of 999 calls the trust received has increased by 21 per cent on the previous year.
“On March 6, the trust responded to more 999 calls than it had on New Year’s Eve.
“The consequence for patients in the community, awaiting an emergency response from the trust is that we are seeing an increase in the number of delayed responses to 999 calls.
“The reality is that the nature of the increase in delays has raised the potential of harm occurring.”
At Basildon Hospital there were 29,459 admissions to A&E in the past three months, compared to 27,626 in the same period the year before.
A spokesman said: “We treat all patients in A&E according to clinical priority. Patients who come to Basildon Hospital by ambulance and are critically ill will be seen immediately.
“We aim to see, treat and discharge or admit patients as quickly as possible, however increasing demand has meant there is extra pressure on our A&E department.”