Ambulance crews are failing to meet official targets for patients with life-threatening conditions in two out of three cases, it has been claimed.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has released figures showing a dangerous deterioration in ambulance response times, which he said is “putting public safety at risk”.
According to Mr Beggs, only 39% of paramedics arrived to category A calls – the most serious – within eight minutes in January this year.
“This is far below the target of 72.5% and a drop of 12% compared to the same period 12 months earlier,” he said.
The release of the statistics is the latest blow for the struggling NI Ambulance Service (NIAS), which has come under fire from health officials and even its own employees for unsafe working practices in recent months.
Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the health watchdog RQIA had imposed sanctions after repeated failures by NIAS bosses to address hygiene standards.
The health watchdog was so concerned by conditions at ambulance stations that it asked the Department of Health to intervene.
Reacting to the figures provided by the Health and Social Care Board, Mr Beggs said: “The importance of ambulances and paramedics arriving on time really cannot be emphasised enough.
“The longer someone has to wait for assistance in an emergency, the greater the risk there is of them coming to serious harm.
“It is outrageous, therefore, that whilst the official target is that 72.5% should be responded to within eight minutes, in January 2018 only 39% of calls were met within this time. In fact I can reveal through information provided by the Health and Social Care Board, that the last time even 50% of calls were met within eight minutes was July 2017.
The figure has been consistently deteriorating – down from over 68% in 2012/13 to just 47% up to January 2017/18. The Ambulance Service acknowledged the increase in category A response times over the past number of years.
A spokesman said the main reason was increasing demand, along with the length of time it takes to hand over patients to emergency departments.
He added that the NIAS had carried out analysis of capacity needs and developed a plan for a new clinical model “to provide the most urgent response to the most clinically urgent patients”.
It has been backed by the Health and Social Care Board, and is now being considered by the Department of Health.
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