AMBULANCES are being held up at hospitals across Ireland because A&E departments are so overcrowded.
In some instances, ambulance crews are unable to leave the hospital for three hours, and at one point, an ambulance was held for 14 hours before it could leave and go back out on call.
Among the worst-hit facilities is Letterkenny General Hospital, where 38 ambulances were unable to be released back into service for between two and four hours over the space of a month because a trolley could not be found for their patient, according to the Irish Independent.
The issue comes at a time when Ireland is facing its biggest hospital overcrowding problem in a generation.
Over the last few months, patients have been left for hours, days and even weeks without beds, due to the sheer number of people flowing through the facilities, as well as the lack of staff on hand to deal with the rising numbers.
The reason many ambulances are unable to get back out on call once they've dropped a patient off, is because there's a rule in place which states that a vehicle isn't legally allowed to go back into service until the patient is fully admitted into hospital and handed over from paramedics to hospital staff.
Due to the overcrowded A&E departments, it now takes longer than normal for patients to be admitted and for ambulances to be freed up again.
An inquest was held this week into the death of 71-year-old Ms Callaghan from Letterkenny, who was forced to wait 70 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, despite the fact she lives less than 2km away from the hospital.
She was told the two ambulances in operation were unable to leave the hospital when she called, and while one of them eventually turned up just over an hour later, the other was held at the facility for six-and-a-half hours.
Ireland Health Service Executive (HSE) figures for September showed that 766 ambulances were delayed for more than 30 minutes - the maximum target set by the HSE.