UK Medics: Ambulance Service is in 'State of Collapse'
Paramedics in Hertfordshire said the ambulance service is "in a state of collapse" as the number of 999 calls surges in the face of massive funding cuts.
Staff from the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who wished to remain anonymous, said patients can be left waiting up to three hours for an ambulance.
One paramedic said these included patients with chest pains, spinal injuries, and even one with symptoms of a stroke.
Figures obtained from the trust show an extra 679 heart attack patients had to wait more than half an hour to be taken to a specialist cardiac centre by ambulance in November 2012 compared to last year.
The number of patients in Hertfordshire with other injuries who had to wait more than an hour for an ambulance increased from five in December 2011, to 87 in November 2012.
Paramedics warned that with the additional pressure of winter, it was only a matter of time before someone died as a result of no ambulances being available.
One said: "There are not enough ambulances and fast response vehicles available to cope with the volume of calls. If you dial 999 in an emergency, chances are there will be no ambulance to send."
The trust is facing a £50million cut over five years, and logged a 20 per cent increase in 999 calls during 2012.
Paramedics accused the trust of attempting to plug the gap with emergency care assistants who receive basic first aid training, and fast response cars, which cannot take people to hospital.
The number of people in Hertfordshire waiting more than half an hour for an ambulance increased from 37 in December 2011, to 376 in November 2012, peaking at 427 in September.
In the East of England, the number of patients waiting more than two and a half hours for an ambulance increased from three to 15, peaking at 33 in June 2011.
One paramedic, who works in a fast response car, said: "On almost every occasion I request backup from an ambulance, I am told that there are none available, and there is a queue of outstanding 999 calls.
"This means patients are delayed in getting to hospital, and until an ambulance arrives, I cannot attend other calls."
The paramedic compiled a list of delayed jobs which include a teenager with a spinal injury, who waited 40 minutes for a fast response vehicle, and then another hour for an ambulance.
An elderly woman with symptoms of a stroke had to wait an hour to be taken to hospital, and another waited two hours for an ambulance after falling and breaking her ribs.
The paramedic added: "I can only see things becoming more dire. Someone in south Hertfordshire will die this winter as a result of no ambulance being available at the time of the emergency.
"It is not a matter of if, but when."
Another paramedic said as another consequence of the delays, ambulance crews often have to enter a hostile environment.
They said: "Verbal abuse is just accepted as part of the job, I'm surprised that the public are not complaining more."
Neil Storey, director of operations for the trust, said it was working on improving the figures by the end of this financial year.
He blamed the increase in figures on a new reporting system and a rise in calls to the service.
One of the paramedics added: "The figures are there in black and white and still our senior managers are not accepting that there is a problem.
"My colleagues feel they are forced to play Russian roulette with people's lives as the work load increases.
"I don't think the people of south west Hertfordshire are aware that the service is in such state of collapse until they call upon it for help.
"I joined to help people, not to see them suffer at the hands of a failing ambulance service."
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