Northern Ireland

Groomsport: Ambulance apology after child's two-hour wait

Erin Hughes Image copyright Hughes family
Image caption Erin Hughes was left lying on the ground for more than two hours after falling off her bike and injuring her back.

The ambulance service has apologised after a 12-year-old girl lay on the ground for more than two hours after injuring her back in a fall.

Erin Hughes was cycling down a hill in Groomsport, County Down, on Friday evening when she fell off her bike and landed on her back.

Her mother, Emma, phoned an ambulance as her daughter was in pain.

She was told not to move her and that a paramedic would be sent.

The ambulance service said it received the call at 18:39 BST.

After Mrs Hughes' husband arrived, they phoned the ambulance service again after waiting for about an hour and asked if they could take her to hospital themselves.

"They said 'absolutely no way, you can't move her, is she still in pain?' We said yes and they said 'you have to wait for the ambulance'," Mrs Hughes told the BBC.

She said the ambulance service told her it could not give her a time for when a paramedic would arrive, and that several members of staff had not turned up for work.

However, in a statement the ambulance service said there was a full complement of emergency crews in the Bangor and Newtownards area, but they were engaged on other calls.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The ambulance service has apologised for the delay

After waiting a further period, Mr and Mrs Hughes went back to a shop where she had earlier bought painkillers to see if they would have a spinal board.

It was owned by Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers, who said he would also phone the ambulance service.

'Outrageous'

An ambulance finally arrived at 20:44 BST.

"Once they got to us they were fabulous. They had just come on duty and were really apologetic," Mrs Hughes said.

However, she said the wait had been "outrageous".

"We thought maybe she'd broken her collar bone and she had this really sharp lower back pain," Mrs Hughes said.

"She must have been travelling about 15mph down this hill.

"It's just frustrating when you can't help your child."

Mrs Hughes said she and her husband contemplated strapping their daughter to a table and taking her to hospital.

She said Erin had been cold and shaking on the ground.

"That's how desperate we felt. What a way to be in this day and age."

'Offer our sincere apologies'

In a statement, an ambulance service spokesman said that the incident was prioritised as Category B - potentially serious but not immediately life-threatening.

He said they aim to respond to such incidents within 21 minutes.

"We acknowledge that we fell well short in this instance," the spokesman said.

"We do not accept that the wait experienced by the young girl and her family is any way acceptable and we would offer our sincere apologies to both.

"We understand the discomfort, pain and distress that would have been experienced by this young patient and also the anxiety and worry that would have been felt by her parents as they waited for an ambulance to arrive.

"We are truly sorry for this and would be willing to meet with the parents to discuss the situation with them."

Mrs Hughes said that while Erin was still in pain and had been "traumatised" by her experience, she did not seem to have been seriously injured.