Ambulance service chiefs have launch an investigation after people who went to the aid of an elderly man who was found collapsed in the street were told he faced a five-hour wait for a mercy crew.
The man was found in Heworth Road, Concord, Washington, on Sunday night by a woman and her boyfriend.
The couple, who do not wish to be named, called for an ambulance but, when they were told it would be another five hours before paramedics could get to him, they took him to Sunderland Royal Hospital in their own car.
It is believed the man had suffered a stroke.
The North East Ambulance Service today apologised to both the patient and the caller for the distress caused and said the incident is now the subject of an investigation.
The incident came to light as the North East Ambulance Service yesterday raised its operational status to “severe pressure”, meaning that the trust’s response to potentially life-threatening calls has “deteriorated”.
On Monday, the service took 1,837 emergency 999 & urgent calls, 46% higher than same time last year.
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson described Sunday’s incident as “shocking” and said she will be writing to the NEAS’s chief executive about the ongoing issue of waiting times.
Mrs Hodgson, who is shadow minister for children, said: “This is a shocking incident and nobody should ever have to wait that long to receive emergency treatment.
“At a meeting of the Northern Group of Labour MPs in October we spoke directly to Yvonne Ormston, the chief executive of the North East Ambulance Service, raising the ongoing problems that people had experienced with the service.
“Whilst we all appreciate that these issues have grown recently due to the shortage of paramedics and A&E being too over-stretched, we made it very clear that much more needed to be done to address this problem, so that people can get the help they need when they need it most.
“It is extremely disappointing, therefore, that so soon after this meeting there has been yet another incident that could have had tragic consequences.
“I will therefore be writing to the chief executive again, on this specific case, and asking what steps the Ambulance Service is taking to make sure incidents like this do not happen in the future.”
A spokeswoman for the NEAS said: “We would like to apologise to both this patient and the caller for the distress this incident must have caused.
“This incident is now under investigation.
“We would be happy to discuss this investigation, and any lessons learned as a result, with the patient directly.”
North East Ambulance Service bosses say that members of the public should only dial 999 for medical emergencies such as:
• Chest pains;
• Breathing difficulties;
• Severe loss of blood;
• Severe burns;
• Severe allergic reactions.