Norfolk ambulance crews were told to take their patients to Ipswich hospital on Sunday, as there was no space left in the county’s hospitals.

Crews working that day received messages from managers to stop taking patients to the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston and travel an extra one hour and 20 minutes away to the Suffolk site instead.

A message sent to paramedics on Sunday said the James Paget was on “full divert to Ipswich Hospital” with all cases apart from children, maternity and the most critical being taken south of the border.

NHS figures show there was not a single “divert” in Norfolk and Suffolk last winter, but with diverts already being used, staff are warning that this winter will be the worst on record for patients waiting.

A JPUH spokesman said ambulances queued an hour on average to hand patients over to the hospital on Sunday and 10 handovers took more than 60 minutes.

They added: “It was an extremely busy weekend here.” They also said that for some patients, Ipswich hospital may have been closer than Gorleston.

Meanwhile, that same afternoon at the NNUH, information sent to this newspaper shows around 25 ambulances queuing in the car park outside A&E to handover patients.

One paramedic said: “Everyone I speak to says this is the worst they have ever seen it.”

They blamed a mixture of Covid, flu season and the already existing pressures on the NHS for the long delays.

On Saturday, a patient died after going into cardiac arrest in the back of an ambulance while waiting at the hospital.

They became the third person in the region in recent weeks to go into cardiac arrest in the back of an ambulance and die while waiting for a hospital bed.

NHS bosses have long pledged to fix handover delays at hospitals but with record demand on services, that has not been possible.

At the end of October NHS chiefs wrote to all hospitals in England telling them to end handover delays because of the “unacceptable clinical risk” to patients.

A spokesperson for the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney said: “NHS services across Norfolk and Waveney have had one of the busiest weekends of the winter so far.

"Across the NHS staff are working tirelessly whilst responding to high levels of demand. Emergency and urgent care services continue to be very busy and patients are urged to contact NHS 111 first over the phone or online if they need medical advice.”