A shock rise in life-threatening 999 calls has been blamed for ambulances not hitting their emergency response targets.
After a week in which the Evening Post reported fire engines were used to take patients to hospital in place of paramedics, the North West Ambulance Service has admitted it is struggling to cope.
Latest figures show the region has seen an “unprecedented” rise in calls to seriously ill patients over the last three months - with Lancashire the worst hit county in the region.
“This rise in activity has had an effect on our performance and, unfortunately, we have not attained our performance target,” said NWAS director of operations Derek Cartwright.
“We understand that to everyone who rings 999, their problem is an urgent one. However we have to prioritise our resources and, while we strive to reach everyone as quickly as possible, it is likely those with less serious conditions may have to wait longer for an ambulance.”
Top priority (red) calls, which are deemed life-threatening, were up 6.8 per cent during April/May/June across the North West. But in Lancashire the increase was almost eight per cent.
In June red calls shot up by more than 15 per cent in the Red Rose county - compared to a rise of just 3.1 per cent in Cumbria - and were also 10.6 per cent up in May.
The NWAS says the sharp rise could be partly down to the warm weather, the World Cup and the number of Bank Holidays - all factors which can lead to excessive drinking.
Speaking about red calls, Mr Cartwright added: “These patients need our help urgently, they have life-threatening conditions and it is these people we need to reach within eight minutes. We’re seeing people with conditions such as respiratory and heart conditions which can be exacerbated by the warm weather. And, in this period, we have also had the World Cup and four Bank Holidays which bring incidents involving alcohol.”
Additional funding, he said, had enabled the NWAS to “put on hold” some proposed reductions to the service which were only suggested last month. The region now had in place “hear and treat” and “see and treat” systems where the less serious calls could get telephone self-care advice or be referred to other healthcare providers such as GPs, resulting in more ambulances being freed up to deal with the more serious cases.
The region achieved a red call performance rating of 73.5 per cent compared to its target of 75 per cent.