Belfast Telegraph

Belfast woman's 12-minute 999 wait as boy lay convulsing - 'we're embarrassed,' says ambulance chief

A Belfast woman was put on hold for twelve minutes after calling an ambulance.
A Belfast woman was put on hold for twelve minutes after calling an ambulance.
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

A Belfast woman has told how she was put on hold for 12 minutes on 999 after she spotted a teenager convulsing on a road.

Catherine told the BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Show she listened to a recorded message before anyone answered her emergency call.

The incident took place in the Finaghy area on Tuesday. Catherine was driving when she saw a young boy, aged around 16 or 17, who'd collapsed at the side of the road and was having seizure.

She got out of the car to help and rang 999. After being put on hold other people arrived to help.

"He wasn't alert and I wasn't sure what was happening," Catherine said.

"I was quite scared, this was a young boy and he needed help, when I rang for help there was no answer, there was nobody there at the end of the line to help.

"Someone put him in the recovery position and kept him calm. I thought it might be a problem with my phone so I ran across the road to a local business and they also rang 999 and got the same message.

"On this occasion the patient is fine but you just wonder what if it was something else, what if someone had seriously been injured. When you ring 999 you want to be sure someone will be there.

Catherine said once her call was answered the ambulance arrived quickly and the staff "absolutely brilliant".

"I think it's really scary, I mean who do you call when you need help? It could have been a child choking, it could have been a road traffic accident. It could have been someone on their own crying out for help and 12 minutes is a long time to wait for someone to help you," Catherine added.

Brian McNeill, director of operations for the Ambulance Service told the Nolan Show he was "embarrassed and very disappointed". He stressed that should anyone have to wait after calling 999 they should not hang up and try again as this would put them at the back of the queue.

"This is totally unacceptable, we failed the person who made the call and the patient. We are doing a full investigation to ensure it doesn't happen again."

In a statement the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service apologised to Catherine for the incident.

"We apologise to the patient for the unacceptable delay in sending them an ambulance," the statement read.

The NIAS confirmed that Catherine queued for 12 minutes and said that they have a "call queue because on occasion calls outnumber the call takers available to answer them".

"We have various contingencies in place in the event that there are more of those calls coming in than we can take.

"When we have calls queueing we allow our callers to complete other calls quickly and we also have a buddy system with the Scottish Ambulance Service where the calls that are queued here can be answered by one of them and vice versa.

"There has clearly been a failure in our contingency system and we are now in the process of completing an investigation."  

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