DESPERATE 999 callers trying to get an ambulance over the festive period were kept on hold for up to 20 minutes, we can reveal.
The delays emerged as Scotland’s health service comes under massive pressure with rising numbers of severe flu cases forcing operations to be cancelled and prompting huge waits in A&E departments.
Health minister Shona Robison yesterday issued an appeal for at-risk patients to get vaccinated against the virus while insisting the Scottish NHS was coping with the winter crisis. But the ambulance staff union revealed some patients were left waiting more than eight hours for an emergency vehicle to arrive after phoning 999 in the early hours of January 1, while others were left on hold for up to 20 minutes.
Frontline medical crews say that, in some cases, a few minutes’ delay can cost lives.
One Glasgow woman, who phoned 999 on Hogmanay after a friend collapsed at a party, told how she and friends repeatedly called for an ambulance, and on one occasion were left on hold for 12 minutes.
She said: “It was terrifying. The 12 minutes seemed to last hours, and I was just watching my friend struggling on the floor. He was vomiting, shaking and struggling to breathe. It was frightening.”
A crew finally turned up at 4am – three hours after the first call. Then a second ambulance turned up at the same address more than three hours later. Unite representative Jamie McNamee said: “A large number of callers waited more than eight hours before they got a response, and that’s because there is not enough capacity.
“There were also people waiting for up to 20 minutes for their 999 calls to be answered.
“Staff are trying their damnedest against all the odds but morale is at an all-time low.”
Last week, we revealed how the NHS 24 helpline took 45,000 calls in the four days around Christmas.
And new figures show the number of people visiting their GP is more than double the rate of that in England, with around 46 in every 100,000 Scots making a trip to the doctor due to flu symptoms in the last week. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde apologised over A&E waiting times, while the Scottish Ambulance Service has now also apologised to those facing delays over the festive period.
Outside many hospitals ambulances were seen queueing for hours to drop patients off.
One concerned man who took his mum to hospital on Christmas Day said: “There were people on trolleys in corridors, the staff were stressed out and people were told they would have to wait between six and seven hours to be seen.
“It was complete chaos.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokeswoman said calls over Hogmanay and New Year were 45% above expected levels, and almost three quarters of the 2565 calls were made between midnight and 7am.
She added: “Ambulances are working on a priority system that we have to go on. We would like to apologise to any patients who waited longer than normal.”
On the complaint by the Glasgow 999 caller, she said: “Ambulances are prioritised according to the clinical need of patients and due to the information available the first call was classed as non-immediately life-threatening.
“We received a further call to attend the incident, were advised that the patient’s condition had changed and we arrived on scene within three minutes.”
As previously revealed by The Sunday Post, flu rates across Scotland are continuing to rise with hundreds of people hospitalised this winter.
Yet just 41% of eligible under-65s have received the flu jab.
Health secretary Shona Robison urged more Scots to get the jab.
She said: “The flu vaccine offers the best defence against the most common strains of the virus circulating this year.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “I would encourage those who are eligible to make getting the vaccination a priority.”