Ambulance Service bosses have been told of claims of patients waiting up to three hours for an emergency vehicle to respond to a call.
And, while personnel are working “under extreme pressure”, there have been calls for more paramedics and ambulances as demand for the service increases.
It has been claimed that many are being delayed at Emergency Departments, leaving them restricted in their ability to respond to further emergency calls.
It’s just not good enough and people’s lives – in areas such as south Armagh – are being put at risk, according to Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty.
The SDLP representative was speaking after raising concerns directly this week with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service’s Operations Director Brian McNeill.
The meeting – held in Newry – was called to discuss ongoing concerns about ambulance response times locally.
“The Ambulance Service is one of those services you hope you never need, and when you do call them it really is a cry for help,” said Mr McNulty.
“The professionalism of – and care given by – ambulance personnel, be it the emergency ambulance, rapid response vehicle or non-emergency ambulance service, is second to none.
“We hear time and time again of the care and attention given by the personnel each and every time they are called upon.”
But the MLA said there remains a “major issue” relating to response times.
He added: “I know the service is under pressure but in recent weeks alone I have become aware of cases where it took over three hours for an emergency ambulance to respond to a call.
“Furthermore, we have heard so many stories of ambulances sitting at Emergency Departments waiting for patients to be transferred from the ambulance to the hospital. Ambulance crews are spending too much time at Emergency Departments and are therefore restricted in terms of their availability to respond to further emergency calls.
“This is simply not good enough. We all recognise that ambulance personnel are working under extreme pressure and know how frustrated they are with inefficiencies in the system.
“They are crying out of leadership and investment. We need more personnel and more vehicles responding to the growing demand for the service.
“This is a leadership and resource issue. I took the opportunity to discuss at length the pressures on the service locally and the concerns raised with me by residents. Response times in areas like in the heart of south Armagh simply are not good enough, and I firmly believe this is putting lives at risk.
“What struck me most was the appetite for change and investment in the service, however, with no Minister in charge of the Department of Health, proposals to help resolve the problems facing the service are stuck on the ‘to do’ list. Again, this is simply not good enough.
“The Ambulance Service is a key front line service and it must be allowed to modernise and expand. I will continue to engage with the service and the Sothern Health and Social Care Trust on how to improve the service and streamline the cooperative efforts of all involved when the ambulances and patients arrive at our hospitals.”