A TERRIFIED Omagh mother said she watched her son “turn blue” while gasping for breath during an agonising 50 minute wait for an ambulance last Thursday night.
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said the delay was a result of no crews being available to respond from Omagh station.
The 11-year-old suffered a severe asthma attack, but his inhaler wasn’t working. Fortunately, paramedics arrived in time to nebulise the young boy before transferring him to hospital in Enniskillen.
The NIAS has apologised to the family. The incident has once again raised concerns over ambulance response times in West Tyrone.
They said the wait was a result of no crews being available to respond from Omagh station.
The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her child, told the UH she fears there will be a fatality if there is not greater ambulance cover for the wider Omagh area.
She said, “Last Thursday night my son took a severe asthma attack. I rang the out of hours doctor at around 11.05pm. They called me back at 11.25am and I was told my son needed emergency help and they were sending an ambulance. They did say there would be ‘quite a delay’ but added that I was being prioritsed.
“However, I was sitting with a child who was turning blue, barely able to breath.
“I started to really panic at about 11.45pm as the ambulance hadn’t arrived yet so I called 999 and was told it was still 23 minutes away. But the child was just getting worse.
“When the paramedics eventually arrived they told me they had come from the far side of Plumbridge and there was no ambulance cover at all in the Omagh area. The gave him a nebuliser then and took him to the hospital in Enniskillen, but we had to pull over in Dromore to nebulise him again.”
This was only the boy’s second ever asthma attack, having suffered a much less severe incident in 2016.
The mother continued, “That hour and 20 minute wait seemed like forever. Thankfully all was okay in the end and the paramedics who came were superb. I just fear we may not be as lucky if there was a next time. I also fear for everyone else in the Omagh area who needs emergency attention. If there is not sufficient ambulance cover to get to them in time, there could be preventable fatalities.”
West Tyrone MP Órfhlaith Begley, who recently met with the Ambulance Service to highlight concerns over waiting times in the Omagh area, described this latest incident as “extremely worrying”.
The MP continued, “It is vital that there is significant and ongoing investment in the Ambulance Service to reduce waiting times and ensure that lives are not being put at risk due to the adequate ambulance cover not being in place.
“In my meeting with the Ambulance Service last month, Mr Bloomfield informed me that newly trained paramedics will be returning to the service in the coming months to fill a number of vacancies in the system. While that is positive, there needs to be ongoing significant investment in the workforce to relieve pressures faced by paramedics and Sinn Féin stated this clearly in our recent submission to the consultation on the Ambulance Service.”