Some patients in the North East are being forced to wait up to six hours for an ambulance despite guidelines saying paramedics should arrive within 30 minutes, according to figures obtained by The Journal.
One patient had to wait more than three hours after the emergency was categorised as ‘red2’, which is potentially life-threatening and has a target time of eight minutes.
Figures obtained by The Journal from a Freedom of Information request show that the North East Ambulance Service failed to meet their target response times on 10 separate occasions in a 12-month period.
However, bosses at the ambulance service say they are the highest performing service in the country, reaching just under 80% of the most seriously ill or injured patients within eight minutes.
Last night the son of a great-grandmother who died in 2012 after being admitted to hospital following a four-and-a-half-hour wait for an ambulance to her home, hit out at the figures.
Although an inquest ruled that the delay in the North East Ambulance Service taking Florence Taylor, 81, to hospital had no impact on the tragic outcome, coroner Derek Winter said he would be writing to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to bring the case to his attention.
Florence’s son Raymond, 59, of Ryhope, near Sunderland, said: “I just don’t think things are going to change until the Government step in and do something about it.
“You hear about people having to wait longer for ambulances all the time.”
The statistics show that on January 1 last year, a patient in the Bishop Auckland area of County Durham had to wait three hours 13 minutes despite having potentially life-threatening injuries. The ambulance service said that the call was originally non-life-threatening.
Raymond added: “It’s quite horrific that someone has had to wait three hours and the waiting time should have been eight minutes, but the figures really don’t surprise me.”
A North East Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: “The call that came in last year at 11.03am on New Year’s Day was originally a non-life-threatening ‘green’ situation. Vehicles were dispatched, but on each occasion, they were diverted to patients in more serious need of attention.
“However, at 2pm we took another call saying the ‘green’ patient had taken a turn for the worse. The call was immediately upgraded to our red classification, and the ambulance arrived 18 minutes later.
“All English ambulance services are funded to reach 75% of the most serious patients within eight minutes.
“Despite the best efforts of our crews, we cannot reach 100% of patients within that target time. Even with unlimited funds, this would be impossible.”
The information gathered by The Journal shows that one patient in NE66 area of north Northumberland had to wait one hour 20 minutes, while another in Shildon, County Durham, waited one hour 36 minutes despite both being placed on ‘red2’ where ambulances should come within eight minutes.
In cases categorised as “green2” - where blue lights and sirens are used and ambulances are supposed to reach patients within 30 minutes, a case in May saw a patient in Hebburn wait for six hours and 51 minutes.
There were also four targets missed in the “green3” category, where patients should be seen within an hour. The longest wait came in the Ryhope area of Sunderland, and was 11-and-a-half hours.