HALIFAX -- It's not the first time, and it likely won't be the last, but there was a long wait for some patients arriving by ambulance Monday evening at Halifax-area hospitals.

Some ambulances had to wait hours before they could unload their patients at the Halifax Infirmary and Dartmouth General.

"Some ambulances would've been in the hours offloading," said Dr. Kirk Magee, the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone chief.

The Department of Health directive is for a patient offload to take no more than half an hour.

"We do our best to see those or potentially the sickest, the soonest," Magee said. "We had our regular volume of patients, we had a little more acute than a typical day, but with the inpatient beds at capacity, it doesn't leave a lot of room for surge in the system when we have increased demand secondary to acute or volume."

That surge, and the delay it can create in the ER, is well known.

Strategies have been developed, including a 12-hour timeline created last year for how long a person can wait in the ER before being moved to another unit.

"We still seem to have a challenge with what we have with surge capacity," said Kevin Chapman of Doctors Nova Scotia. "When hospitals are running at 95 to 100 per cent capacity and don't have any room for surge, whether that's an epidemic, or a flu season or anything that might cause a blip or spike in visits."

According to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, a little over one per cent of people going to a provincial ER right now are complaining about the flu.

But that number will likely only go up.

"Today, knock on wood, it hasn't been too bad," Magee said. "Our waits are what they would be for this time of year. I think the biggest unknown right now is what will happen when flu season really hits."

Flu season is likely four to six weeks away from hitting its peak.