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A record 350,000 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital from A&E last year, according to figures that raise fears about unsafe care as the NHS faces further waves of strike action.

The figures, uncovered in an analysis by the Liberal Democrats, show a steep rise in delays since 2015, when just 1,306 patients waited 12 hours. Senior doctors described the situation as “unbearable” for patients and staff, ahead of a strike in which thousands of ambulance workers will walk out across England and Wales on Monday.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, warned that frequent and lengthy delays in emergency medicine are “needlessly costing lives of patients” and said that the government is in “total denial” about the scale of the problem facing hospitals, social care and GP services.

The failure of the Conservative government to grip this crisis is simply unforgivable,” he said. “Instead they have shamefully allowed the situation to go from bad to worse through years of neglect and failure.”

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