Northern Ireland

NI ambulances miss 999 response targets

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service
Image caption The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has a two-second "standard" to answer 999 calls and an eight-minute target for paramedics to arrive at the scene of life-threatening calls

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has missed the eight-minute target to arrive at the scene of life-threatening calls over both of the last two years.

Its average response time to Category A - immediately life threatening - calls, was 10 minutes, 17 seconds in 2015/16.

The previous year, ambulances took an average of nine minutes, 37 seconds.

The figures, revealed by the health minister, also showed that thousands of 999 calls to the ambulance service are abandoned every year.

Over the past two years, callers hung up almost 9,000 times before their phones were answered.

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill outlined the details in a written answer to an Assembly question.

'Alarming'

The questions were submitted by Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler and were reported in the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Butler, a former firefighter, told BBC News NI he was concerned by the missed targets because timing is "absolutely critical" in medical emergencies.

"It is alarming to note that response times for Category A, which are life-threatening calls, has extended to over 10 minutes.

"This is quite significant when it's widely held and recognised that stabilization of the person in need and the transfer to the appropriate hospital is critical to a good outcome", he said.

Image caption Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, who obtained the figures, said response times are critical in medical emergencies

"From my experience working with the Fire and Rescue Service, I can tell you that in those Category A, life-threatening calls it is absolutely vital for people to be stabilized."

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has set a two-second "standard" to answer 999 calls.

Over the past two financial years, it answered an average of 16,500 calls each month within that two-second target.

An average of 1,058 calls were answered outside the two-second target each month - the average delay in answering the 999 calls was six seconds.

In 2014/15, there were 5,424 abandoned calls. Last year, a total of 3,610 calls were abandoned.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service told the Belfast Telegraph that the abandoned calls represented just 2.25% of all emergency calls received.

"The trust is unable to comment as to why the caller would disconnect as we have been unable to speak with them," he said.

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