Ambulance crews spent the equivalent of three-and-a-half years stranded outside Norfolk's hospitals over the winter, staggering new figures have shown.

Between November 12 and April 2, paramedics spent a "soul-destroying" 31,423 combined hours waiting in Norfolk hospital car parks for their patients to be admitted.

The region's largest hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, bore the brunt of these waits, with ambulance crews spending the equivalent of 709 days - almost two years - waiting.

The startling statistic comes despite local health bosses spending £11m on a raft of measures to fight off winter collapse

The new figures have shone another light on the insurmountable pressure on the region's fracturing health and social care services.

Norfolk's three main hospitals ranked third (N&N), fourth (QEH) and fifth (JPH) nationally for the percentage of ambulances waiting longer than an hour for patients to be admitted.

At the N&N, half of all patients arriving by ambulance spent at least an hour waiting.

Eastern Daily Press: Fourteen ambulances were queued outside the NNUH on Sunday, with another two said to be waiting in the resuscitation bays. Photo: Submitted

A paramedic, who did not wish to be named, said: "Crews are incredibly frustrated about the delays and some hospitals seem to be far worse than others.

"Instead of being able to respond to six to eight jobs per 12-hour shift, they might only do a maximum of three.

"The same number of 999 calls keep coming in and knowing that seriously ill and injured patients can't get an ambulance is soul-destroying."

The figures come a week after an inquest revealed that a Norfolk man, Martin Coleman, died of a heart attack in a supermarket car park after phoning for an ambulance that arrived five hours later.

A spokeswoman for the Norfolk and Waveney integrated care system said: "Health and care services are always busier during the winter period, but during our most recent winter, we saw pressures like never before.

"Enabling patients to be seen as quickly as possible at our acute hospitals and getting ambulance crews back on the road is our priority to ensure others can receive emergency care when they need it.

"There are a number of reasons for ambulance delays, including staff shortages and the more complex needs of those being admitted to hospital. This means people are staying in hospital longer.

"It therefore takes longer to admit patients from our emergency departments, in turn preventing ambulances from handing over patients and resulting in longer waits to be seen.

"Now that we are recovering from winter, the number of people being discharged on a daily basis is increasing.

"The progress we have made to increase capacity and improve flow has been helped by the investment of £19.7m which has provided additional beds and extra support at home."

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman added: "We have been working closely with the hospitals to reduce handover delays and get our ambulances back on the road as quickly as possible.

"We have also had a successful recruitment drive in Norfolk and Waveney which is boosting the number of ambulances we are able to put out each day to respond to our patients."

Meanwhile, bosses have warned that health services continue to be under pressure exacerbated by junior doctor strikes - which have sparked cancellations and redeployment across the NHS.

Eastern Daily Press: Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal DemocratsEd Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats

And Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey is poised to visit Norfolk today to discuss the party's own concerns about ambulance waiting times. 

Mr Davey said: "Lengthy ambulance delays can have devastating consequences for patients.

"It is heartbreaking that people living in rural areas like Norfolk and Suffolk can be left waiting in distress and pain.

"We urgently need a rescue plan for health services in rural areas."