Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital declared a critical incident on Monday (January 22) for the second time this month.

In a statement, Derriford Hospital said the critical incident was due to “sustained higher emergency attendances since the end of last week” and urged patients not to attend unless they had a “very serious” or “life threatening” condition.

It added that non-urgent patients could be redirected to South Hams Hospital in Kingsbridge as well as Tavistock Hospital and Plymouth’s Cumberland Centre.

A hospital declares a critical incident when it is unable to function normally due to a variety of reasons, including low staffing levels, inordinately high patient numbers or even an IT crash. In Derriford’s case, the hospital was full. By declaring the event, NHS bosses hoped to ease the situation.

The critical incident follows reports that there was a queue of 28 ambulances lining up with patients at the hospital on Saturday night (January 20).

The hospital also declared a critical incident earlier this month, coinciding with a six-day walkout by junior doctors.

Speaking to the BBC, Ann James, the chief executive of University Hospitals Plymouth, said NHS staff had reached a point “where we are very much needing to prioritise those needing very urgent and emergency care”.

According to recent NHS data, Derriford is one of a number of hospitals in Devon and Cornwall experiencing the longest handover delays in England.

Patients arriving by ambulance should ideally wait no longer than 15 minutes to be admitted, but according to recent NHS data, hospitals in Torbay and South Devon had the fourth-worst ambulance handover delays in England, with up to 57 patients patients reportedly waiting more than half an hour.

In addition, up to 47 per cent of ambulance patients waited in a queue for at least 30 mintues.

An independent report recently showed that seven Devon areas including the South Hams were among the worst-performing NHS services in England.

The report by Landys Chemist took into account a variety of factors including average ambulance waiting times. In all, South West Devon, as well as Torbay, Newton Abbot and Central Devon were ranked among the 10 worst performing constituencies in the country.