Ambulance response times for life-threatening incidents have plunged to their worst level for at least five years, according to fresh figures published on Friday.
On average during 2014/15, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service met its eight-minute response target only 57.7 per cent of the time when it came to patients who were facing possibly fatal health emergencies.
These emergencies are deemed Category A cases, and there were 56,934 cases requiring an emergency response during the year.
One year earlier, in 2013/14, ambulance crews were reaching Category A patients within eight minutes 67.6 per cent of the time.
In 2012/13, this figure stood at 68.3 per cent; in 2011/12 it was 72.7 per cent; and in 2010/11 it had been 69.7 per cent.
However, the average 57.7 per cent figure for last year masks huge variations across the Province.
The place where the eight-minute target was met most often was Belfast (where 68.9 per cent of Category A calls were responded to within that time).
The worst was the Northern Health Trust’s region, where the figure stood at just 51.8 per cent.
Delving even deeper into the data also reveals that in an average of just over 26 per cent of Category A cases last year, an emergency response capable of transporting a patient took more than 21 minutes.
The Ambulance Serv ice said it would not be providing a statement about the statistics until Monday.
The figures do not just cover emergency response times, but also admission times for emergency departments, as well as other measures of health care performance.
For example the proportion of patients at the Province’s main emergency departments who were either treated and discharged or admitted to hospital within four hours of their arrival was 73.8 per cent.
The UUP said the target is 95 per cent, and that the figures reveal “the gravity of the situation facing the health service”.
The Department of Health said that they show Northern Ireland’s “emergency care services continue to face enormous pressures”, adding that the last year has been “exceptionally busy” for the ambulance service – and that the same was true for other parts of the UK.