Ambulance staff are being drafted in to work in the corridors of a Merseyside hospital as its A&E struggles to cope with demand.
Paramedics at the North West Ambulance Service have been told they must work additional shifts stationed in the corridors of A&E at Whiston Hospital during the busy winter period.
One paramedic has described the situation in A&E at Whiston Hospital as 'the worst it's ever been', with medical staff being overwhelmed by the level of demand.
In an internal email sent to paramedics by North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, staff were told they had been given additional shifts 'managing the corridor' as hospital staff struggle to cope with the number of patients attending A&E.
The email states: "It has been agreed to provide an ambulance crew to assist Whiston A&E to manage the corridor during this difficult time. As such some of you will notice a change to your rotas showing 'Whiston ED'.
"This is a difficult time, but if we continue to pull together as we have done, we can only succeed."
The communication also suggests that ambulance provision is stretched to full capacity, noting that paramedics working in the corridors will not be provided with an ambulance due to the current 'vehicle situation'.
One paramedic, who did not wish to be named, told the ECHO that there were regularly as many as 16 ambulances waiting in the bays outside Whiston Hospital unable to drop patients off because A&E was too busy.
They said: "I have never seen things at the point that they currently are at the moment. The pressures at Whiston A&E are the worst they have ever been.
"Instead of being out working in ambulances we've been brought in to manage A&E.
"To me this is a complete waste of our resources. It's beyond a joke.
"I've been in the service for years and we've never been asked to do this before. It's making me question whether I should continue my career."
North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust described the decision as a 'temporary agreement' that was designed to 'alleviate pressure' on ambulance crews.
St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said that the measure will 'free up ambulances' and allow their colleagues 'to get back on the road as soon as possible'.
Both trusts stressed that paramedics stationed in the A&E corridors were additional capacity and that staff were not being taken off ambulance duty.
Ged Blezard, Director of Operations for North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), said: "Hospital handover waits is a key challenge for the trust and the health service in general, particularly during the busy winter months as the whole system experiences extra pressures.
"As we see an increase in 999 calls, we are treating more patients and taking more people to hospital which adds additional pressure to the already very busy hospitals. With limited beds available in A&E, ambulance crews are waiting at hospitals before they can pass over the care of their patient over to the hospital.
"We work very closely with our hospital colleagues across the region to put in place a number of initiatives to help free up our ambulance clinicians, so that they are able to respond to other patients in emergency situations.
"During this time of extreme demand, ambulance clinicians are assisting hospital staff at Whiston Hospital under a temporary agreement to help alleviate the pressure and release our crews to respond to further emergencies in the community.
"As always, the public can assist only by calling 999 in emergencies and considering other healthcare providers such as GPs and pharmacies if their condition is not serious. NHS 111 Online is available for urgent medical advice if it's not an emergency."
A spokesperson for St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: "The Trust is working in partnership with the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) to put in place initiatives that will help free up ambulances to respond to patients in an emergency.
"All hospitals in the region are currently experiencing high demand for services. Whiston Hospital is the busiest Emergency Department in Cheshire and Merseyside, seeing a treating over 115,000 patients a year, and during particularly busy period paramedics not assigned to a vehicle are being utilised in the Emergency Department alongside medical and nursing staff, to allow their colleagues to get back on the road as soon as possible.
"This not only frees up ambulances into the community but assists hospital staff to continue to provide the highest standards of care during the periods of peak activity."