A Belfast man has urged local politicians to “recognise the system is broken” after his 83-year-old aunt fell and waited over four hours in the street for an ambulance.
“I was ashamed to be a citizen of Belfast to see my auntie Sheila lying in the street for four hours and 20 minutes,” Declan told BBC’s Nolan Show.
“She fell at 4.10pm and the ambulance arrived at 8.30pm [on Monday].”
He added that he felt “totally helpless” at the fact that his elderly relative was ”lying in the street” at the bottom of the Glen Road, but noted “we were very fortunate a nurse actually saw her fall and he was able to call the ambulance service immediately.”
“She broke her hip last October and has made tremendous progress in recovery. We were very concerned that her hip may have been damaged again,” he continued.
“Sheila fell just outside the convent of the Sisters of St Vincent de Paul and they were able to provide blankets and pillows to help Sheila. The biggest fear is that she could have caught pneumonia. We were very fortunate Monday was a warm night. Can you imagine if that had happened on a cold, wet, dark November evening?”
When Sheila eventually was picked up by an ambulance and taken to hospital, it was discovered that she had not broken any bones.
Her nephew said: “We have to thank the NHS and Sheila received great treatment, but we have to ask our politicians to admit that the system is broken.”
Another member of the public, known just as Robert, said he phoned an ambulance for his son at around 10pm on Monday night.
Robert’s son had pains in his chest and was very “distressed”.
“He couldn’t do anything… he was in that much pain. I rang a daughter who is qualified in first aid and she arrived.”
Within 20 minutes of initially making the first call to the ambulance service, Robert said: “I was told then, ‘there won't be any ambulance coming, they are all occupied in Dundonald [Ulster] Hospital with patients they can’t release’.”
He claimed that the phone operator told him: “I'm sorry, but you know the way the health service is, there’s no ambulances available’.
“I was very angry, although I didn't show it, but it didn’t surprise me with the state of the county that we live in at the moment,” Robert commented.
His daughter-in-law proceeded to drive his son to the Ulster Hospital, as they “didn’t have any other alternative”.
Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said a main problem facing the wider health service, including the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), is that they currently don’t have access to the £7bn which was promised in the three-year budget.
“The health service was all hoping we would have a three-year budget, so that they can plan properly and invest in staff going forward. At the moment, the ambulance service and Department of Health are just going to have the same money again,” said the south Belfast MLA.
“The frustration for us all is that potentially going into an election, we’ll have a fresh set of MLAs and we will not be able to do the job we’ve been elected to do because there’ll be stalemate at the Executive level.
“I think the DUP has got this wrong on this occasion and I think the health service will be the area most impacted if the Executive is not formed at the far side of the election. We agreed the draft budget was sitting with about £7bn for the health service, but they won’t get all that if the Executive isn't there.”
When pressed on whether there are enough ambulances to be deployed to those in life-threatening cases, Ms Bradshaw responded: “I think we do. We know that 20% of ambulances are generally stuck at the emergency department’s back door.
“We know that a lot of the crews going out are on overtime because so many people are off on sick leave, understandably because of the pressure they’re under. The whole system is under pressure and the NIAS for years now has been calling for investment, not just the last six or 12 months.”
The NIAS and the DUP have been contacted for comment regarding the statements made in relation to them.