UNDER-FIRE ambulance chiefs have hit back at criticism of waiting times from its own paramedics.
North East Ambulance Service bosses responded to comments by union members who say Government funding cuts are seeing patients having to wait longer for transport.
Ambulance staff from the union Unison held talks yesterday in Durham about a host of issues including increasing attacks on staff, low morale and concerns about the volunteers from St John Ambulance being used for some emergency calls.
The Mail has carried a number of stories in recent weeks about patients with broken legs who had to wait up to an hour and a half for an ambulance to ferry them to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
But the regional ambulance service hit back at its critics and said it is the country’s top performing service with 79 per cent of all life-threatening calls responded to within eight minutes.
All English ambulance services are funded to reach 75 per cent of the most serious calls within eight minutes.
A NEAS spokesman said: “Our frontline staff do a fantastic job. Demand recently has been exceptionally high and we are aware of the pressures they face every day.
“Even with unlimited funding it would be impossible to achieve 100 per cent. The latest data shows that 99 per cent of all potentially life-threatening calls in the region receive an ambulance within 26 minutes.
“Our crews have told us of the pressures they experience because of issues such as increased demand and late finishes on shift.”
Hartlepool Sunday league footballer Geoff Pearson was left waiting for an ambulance for 90 minutes with a broken leg before busy trust chiefs sent a St John Ambulance when he was injured during a match earlier this month.
Just a week earlier, Seaton Carew footballer Paul Dobbings also had an hour and a half wait after also breaking his leg during a game on a frozen Grayfields pitch in Hartlepool.
Yesterday we told how dementia sufferer Mary Hockaday, 89, lay in agony while it took an ambulance nearly 90 minutes to reach her.
Her daughter-in-law, Alison Hockaday, 48, has lodged a formal complaint.
The NEAS says directors have been listening to staff about where improvements can be made to patient care.
The spokesman added: “We recently launched a number of new initiatives aimed at trying to ease some of the strain frontline staff are experiencing.
“Like all public sectors organisations, we try to make savings by working smarter and more efficiently, while protecting frontline services.”