Its a red two call. The lights go on, the sirens come on and we're off, weaving through the rush hour traffic - most cars move out the way, some panic, and get in the way. But it doesn't matter, all we know is a man in Hemel Hempstead is displaying symptoms of a stroke and we need to get to him.

With Christmas and the cold weather, December is one of the busiest times of the year for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST).

The EEAST made 16,465 responses to patients beween December 8 to 14, which is an increase of eleven per cent on the same week last year.

Spending a day with the EEAST crew, I gained a real understanding of not just the role of a paramedic, but the pressures they are under. 

The day started with call for a woman who was having difficulty breathing. We assessed her, and took her to A&E at Watford General. Sounds simple and on this occassion it was. 

The next call came in just as we finished up at the hospital for a man experiencing chest pains in Borehamwood.

The nearest A&E to Borehamwood is Barnet Hospital. We arrived there just before 2.45pm and left at 5pm. Why?

It took more than two hours for the paramedics to do the hand over to the hospital, because there was a queue of people coming into A&E via an ambulance.

According to many of the paramedics, waiting a couple of hours to admit patients into hospital happens on a regular basis across the East of England.

The majority of the figures released look at the ambulance repsonse times or the A&E waiting times - but what it doesn't show is why at times, ambulance reponse times are longer.

Paramedics can't just leave their patients, they have to wait until all the paperwork is done.

Steve Davey, West Hertfordshire’s Senior Locality Manager for the service, said: "All of our staff are working hard in the midst of the extremely high demand to provide a good safe response to our patients, and we are continuing to work closely with hospitals and the clinical commissioning groups to reduce the lengthy handover times ambulance crews are experiencing at A&E departments.

"As well as affecting patient experience, any delays means there are fewer crews to respond in the community which puts extra pressure on our staff and resources.

"A number of measures have been put in place at A&E departments to help reduce pressure including the introduction of hospital ambulance liaison officer (HALO) roles, as well as an increase in the numbers of ambulances responding to patients.

"We also encourage the public to use alternatives to 999 and A&E, such as 111, their GPs and local Pharmacies  if their medical condition is not life-threatening or an emergency."

The lengthy handover times are only for patients who do not need immediate treatment.

If a someone is in need of urgent care, the paramedics will put a call to the hospital on their way there and they go straight into resus.

This is exactly what happened on the last job we went to, the man showing symptoms of a stroke in Hemel Hempstead. The nearest A&E was Watford General, the easiest route is via the M1.

But there was an accident that day and during rush hour, even for an ambulance sounding its siren and blue lights, its tough trying to weave through so much traffic.

The situation intensified as the man's condition worsened on route to the point where we had to pull over on the hard shoulder so the paramedics could treat him. Then it's back to putting the foot down and getting him to hospital.

Their days are long and non-stop. Most paramedics work a 12-hour shift with a half an hour break, and there's no guarantee that they will finish on time either. They never know what they are going to expect when they start their shift and they always hope it's not a waste of their time.