Editor's Viewpoint: Emergency response needed to sort crisis in Ambulance Service
Anyone who has ever had to make an emergency call for an ambulance will know how slowly the minutes seem to pass until help arrives.
The wait can seem endless until there is a welcome sound of a siren in the distance, and then the flashing blue lights of the approaching ambulance appear.
Whether one is waiting at the side of a relative or friend taken suddenly and seriously ill, or assisting a stricken stranger, or coming upon the scene of an accident, there are few feelings to compare with the wave of relief when medical help finally arrives.
It is therefore extremely disturbing to learn that the latest figures show only just over a third of the most urgent ambulance calls in Northern Ireland last year were answered within the target time.
The official stance is that 72.5% of the most serious calls should be reached within eight minutes, but the stark reality is that the actual rate achieved was only 37%.
In other words, nearly two-thirds of the most urgent ambulance calls were not responded to within the proper time.
There are many reasons for this, but the fact is that this state of affairs puts enormous pressures on ambulance staff.
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Some of these details have been highlighted over the past few weeks, with whistleblowers revealing alarming insights into the realities which they face on the front line.
One insider said the resources were so tight that the police were having to respond to certain medical emergencies, including cardiac arrests.
The whistleblower also warned starkly that the Ambulance Service was heading towards a cliff edge.
Only yesterday, a post on the Craigavon PSNI Facebook page revealed that a Lurgan police crew had to fill in for an overstretched Ambulance Service. Such a development is simply not tenable.
Last month another paramedic working in Belfast warned on Facebook that Ambulance Service staff are becoming increasingly distressed by their working conditions.
He clearly warned that paramedics are being pushed to the brink of suicide because of the pressures under which they are forced to work.
A paramedic's routine job is pressurised enough. They have to attend scenes of illness and distress which most of us would not want to have to witness, let alone deal with. As well as keeping their nerve and their professionalism in helping people in pain and trauma, ambulance personnel may have to deal with distressed relatives as well.
They are often working against the clock, and an added burden is that too often they may face attacks from mindless thugs who threaten and abuse the paramedics working in the line of duty.
Most of us wish that we will never have to make an emergency call for an ambulance, but perhaps one day we may have to.
We take it for granted that once we make that call, there is help coming our way within the time target specified.
Sadly, these latest figures reveal that this is by no means always the case.
Help may indeed be on its way, but not as speedily as required.
This may endanger the lives of those who urgently need help, and it certainly adds to the anxiety of those caring for them.
Our Ambulance Service and its dedicated and caring staff need a lifeline to help them do their jobs properly.
That is yet another major reason why our politicians should get back to Stormont, sort out the health service and other issues, and do their jobs properly as well.