A woman in her 80s was told she might have to wait 20 hours for an ambulance after falling down the stairs, as staff say they queued for 12 hours to hand patients over at Ipswich hospital.

On Monday morning Jane – not her real name – called an ambulance after finding her mother, who has dementia, had fallen down the stairs and was trapped in a position that meant she couldn't breathe properly.

"She was bent double," she said. "Her back was wedged against the side of the piano, and her legs and bum were wedged against the bottom step. She was conscious but she didn't look a great colour and she had cut her head.

"She was a bit grey around the edges.

"So I called an ambulance and I did make clear to them on more than one occasion that her chest was very constricted and she was going to be having trouble breathing.

"They said 'we want to tell you now there is a possibility of a 20-hour wait'.

"I was just horrified the ambulance services weren't taking it seriously.

Jane, who is a former nurse, called the fire service who arrived within minutes, freed her mum and gave her oxygen.

"At that point, the ambulance did arrive. I don't know if they reassessed mum's case and sent somebody quicker of if the fire service chased them.

"The people are doing a brilliant job and the control room, it's not their fault either, they're trying to prioritise but the tools they're using to prioritise patients aren't great.

"It comes down to money. There are insufficient services. The ambulance service is underfunded. They've not got enough people. They've got good enough vehicles."

In response, a spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) said: “We received this call at 10.13am on Monday, when demand for our services was incredibly high. Although the caller was initially advised they may experience a long wait as a result, the call was prioritised and community first responder was on scene by 10.40am with an ambulance arriving two minutes later.

“We would like to apologise for any distress which may have been caused to the patient and her family and would encourage them to contact our patient experience team if they would like to discuss this further.”

It comes as ambulance staff described 25 ambulances queuing outside Ipswich Hospital, with some crews being forced to wait 12 hours for a hospital bed to become free.

East Anglian Daily Times: Ambulance staff reported seeing queues of ambulances outside Ipswich HospitalAmbulance staff reported seeing queues of ambulances outside Ipswich Hospital (Image: SARAH LUCY BROWN)

A spokesman for EEAST said: "The NHS is currently facing incredibly high demand and we are working very closely with our partners to speed up handover delays at hospitals to improve care for our patients.

"We experienced increased pressure across the Eastern region over the weekend caused by lengthy handover delays at hospitals and 999 demand. We moved to major incident standby on Saturday night and have remained at that level of escalation to enable us to better direct our resources to focus on patient care."

Neil Moloney, deputy chief executive at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, the organisation which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, said: "We want to get ambulances back on the road as quickly as possible.

“However, the number of people we are treating is increasing and we are seeing more patients who are very sick. This has a huge impact on our A&E departments and means we do have more ambulance delays than we would like.

“Our teams are working as hard as they can to care for everyone who needs our care and treatment in the right place and at the right time.”

Therese Coffey, Suffolk Coastal MP and health secretary, has recently promised “a laser-like focus on handover delays”.

Ms Coffey said a £500 million fund would enable medically fit people to be discharged from hospital more quickly, supporting them to receive care in the community or their own homes instead.

She added the Government will be “exploring the creation of an ambulance auxiliary service”.