A driver hurt in a crash was taken to hospital by fire engine after waiting 90 minutes for an ambulance which never came.
Motorist Saira Khalid was cut free from the wreckage of her brand-new BMW and placed on the engine’s floor on a spinal stretcher for the one-mile journey to Royal Preston Hospital.
“It was unbelievable,” said a bystander who twice phoned 999 in a desperate attempt to summon paramedics.“The woman was in distress and complaining of neck pain. The fire brigade were brilliant in the way they dealt with it. But no-one could believe an ambulance didn’t show.”
North West Ambulance Service said it has now started an inquiry into why an emergency crew did not attend the scene in Regent Drive, Fulwood, Preston, at around 7pm on Wednesday.
An NWAS spokesman said: “Our initial views are that it was down to the numbers of life-threatening and serious cases we were dealing with. Between 6pm and 9pm, we had 19 incidents in Preston alone, seven of which were red calls which were immediately life-threatening.”
The crash happened at the junction with Eastgate when Saira’s black BMW One Series was in a side-on collision with a Volkswagen.
The 22-year-old customer services adviser from Ribbleton was trapped in the driver’s seat until a fire crew cut off the top of the vehicle and carefully removed her using a spinal board and neck support.
Her sister Nadia Hussain, 34, said: “I can’t praise the fire crew too much. They stayed with her, supporting her head all that time.
“The police made several phone calls to the ambulance. The fire service were also talking to them. But we waited and waited and nothing happened.
“In the end the fire crew decided they needed to get her to hospital, so they lifted her up and slid the spinal board into the back of the fire engine and off they went.
“Saira was treated in hospital and, fortunately, X-rays showed she did not have any spinal damage or broken bones. She is now back home, although she’s badly bruised and very sore.
“When I got to the scene I was shocked to see her trapped inside the car. I lost another sister in a traffic accident at the age of four and it brought all that trauma back. My first thought was: ‘Oh my God, not again.’
“We’re all relieved Saira is OK. I don’t blame the paramedics, I blame the Government for cutting back so much on the emergency services.
“There may have been other 999 calls to deal with that night, but you’d like to think there are enough ambulance crews to deal with every one of them. It shouldn’t be up to firefighters to take their place.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue said: “The driver had neck pain, arm injuries and burns from the airbag. So we asked for an ambulance to attend.
“But there were no ambulances available in Preston at that time, they were all dealing with higher priority cases.
“Our crew stayed with her to see if an ambulance would arrive. But later the ambulance service contacted us and asked if we could take her to hospital, which we did.
“It is quite rare for this to happen, although it isn’t unheard of.
“It is not something we do without getting permission from the ambulance service to move the casualty.
“On this occasion they were very busy and it made more sense for the fire engine to take her.”
Local resident Suhail, who lives yards from the accident scene, said: “The poor girl was crying and clearly in pain and shock. She was cold, as well.
“We all waited, expecting an ambulance to come. But after 90 minutes they still hadn’t shown, so the fire brigade took her to hospital. We’re all glad she’s OK.”
Bob Parkinson, Unite branch secretary for North West Ambulance Service, said: “We are very concerned to hear about this incident and are demanding urgent answers as we have now reached a position which is unacceptable.
“We and the people of Lancashire need a thorough explanation as to what has happened and reassurances that it will not occur again.
“This has happened at a time when we are fighting cuts to front-line services across Lancashire.”