A&E departments suffered their worst waiting times in March since records began.

Hospitals across England have struggled with particularly cold weather this winter, including heavy snow, along with high rates of flu and norovirus.

But while performance would usually be expected to improve in the spring, a higher percentage of patients than ever had to wait four hours or more to be seen upon arrival at A&E departments last month.

More than 1,000 patients at Poole Hospital were left waiting for longer than the target period between arrival and admission, transfer or discharge.

At the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals (RBCH) 780 patients faced a four hour delay or more.

Dorset County Hospital was the only hospital across the south to meet the target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours.

However, Poole Hospital and RBCH exceeded the average for England in March, which was 84.6 per cent. Poole Hospital saw 86.1 per cent of its patients within four hours, while RBCH saw 90.7 per cent.

Mark Mould, chief operating officer at Poole Hospital, said: “Poole Hospital continues to see high demand for our emergency services, with March being no exception to this. The continuing presence of flu and norovirus have also complicated our ability to provides beds in a timely way for those patients that need admitting to hospital.

“Despite this, our performance in March shows that we were able to treat, admit or discharge a higher percentage of patients than the national average. “The public is reminded that they should use A&E responsibly, and that alternatives exist with details available on our website,” he added.

Chief Operating Officer of RBCH Richard Renaut said: “The four hour target is an important standard for our patients and our dedicated staff work incredibly hard to treat patients as quickly as possible.

“However, like most trusts, we’ve seen an unprecedented demand on our services over the past few months with the snow in March presenting further challenges.

“The number of patients coming into our Emergency Department and arriving by ambulance also increased compared to the previous March, in particular those with very complex health needs who have then required a longer stay in our hospital.

“Despite longer waiting times for some, we remain in the top quarter of trusts in the country for this target and we’d like to thank all our staff, partners and volunteer agencies who have really pulled together to help us rise to these very challenging circumstances.”

The March statistics released by NHS England also mean 2017/18 is now confirmed as the worst since records began in 2003/04.

The chief executive of NHS Improvement, Ian Dalton, said the statistics “highlight the mammoth pressures facing the NHS this winter, which have continued into March”, adding that they show how much staff are to be applauded.

“April tends to mark the point where pressures on the NHS start to decrease, but we cannot be complacent.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “As expected, these figures for a month ago confirm what was widely reported at the time, namely that during March the NHS continued to experience severe winter pressures.”