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AN INJURED woman was helped by the fire service after an ambulance took an hour and a half to arrive.

Southend firefighters gave the 88-year-old woman oxygen and stayed with her after she tripped on a paving slab outside BHS in High Street, Southend, at 11.45am yesterday.

The woman, from Thorpe Bay, started suffering chest pains and was struggling to breathe so the passing firefighters stopped to help.

The ambulance service responded to an emergency call a minute later, but that was diverted to a higher priority call so the woman waited 90 minutes for an ambulance to take her to hospital.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said: “I had come out to do some shopping and get my glasses repaired and I tripped on a paving stone.

“I was lying on my face so I don’t knowwho helped me, but I was very fortunate people did.

“I don’t know if I have done anything to my ribs, but I wanted to get to hospital to check it.

I’m disappointed the ambulance took so long to get here.”

Passers-by, including off-duty paramedic Kate Simmons, helped the woman alongside firefighters until an ambulance arrived.

Barry May, Southend fire station officer, said: “We were driving down Alexandra Street and saw a woman on the ground so we stopped to help. We gave her oxygen as a comforting device and called the ambulance which we were told was diverted to a high priority casualty. We thought we would hang around to offer support. Then we left the lady in the support of the off-duty paramedic.”

The East of England Ambulance Service sent a paramedic to the scene once the ambulance had been diverted to another category.

A spokesman said: “We want to thank our colleagues in the fire service for keeping the lady comfortable and we hope she has a speedy recovery.

“An ambulance was immediately dispatched, but this had to be diverted to an elderly lady with potentially life threatening chest pain.

“We had a paramedic on scene at 12.22am who carried out their assessments and requested an ambulance which arrived at 1.15pm to take the lady to Southend Hospital for further care.”

Under current guidelines, an ambulance should reach anyone suffering with chest pains within eight minutes, but the ambulance service claims it was not aware of that fact.

Service is struggling, says paramedic

THE off-duty paramedic who stopped to help claimed the service had been struggling to respond to emergency calls for months.

Kate Simmons said this was partly down to delays in dropping off patients at Southend Hospital.

She said: “Our protocol is if someone has pain in their chest and shortness of breath it’s an eight-minute emergency response.

“If it is in a public place it is a blue light immediate eight - minute response.

“The ambulances are regularly queuing at the hospital to offload their patients because there are no beds. There were probably are six ambulances at the hospital within an eight minute response time, but they still have patients in them.

“It’s frustrating, especially if you have someone in a car waiting with someone who is very ill and waiting to get them in the hospital.

“Luckily I was passing, but I have no kit with me and I am only as good as my hands and head.”

A spokesman for Southend Hospital said they were not experiencing “anything unusual” at A&E yesterday despite the Echo spotting six ambulances waiting outside yesterday afternoon.

The spokesman added: “We haven’t had anything out of the ordinary for the last couple of weeks.”

A spokesman for the ambulance service added: “We work closely with Southend Hospital during busy periods to minimise delays as much as possible and our turnaround times are generally very good.”