AMBULANCE bosses say they are under pressure because of the winter weather, the norovirus and other issues that impact on response times.
But the families of Ethel Rumford and Irene Swinbanks suspect financial cutbacks are also to blame.
Mrs Rumford’s daughter, Vivien Davies, said: “There is something sadly wrong here.
“We have got no complaints with the paramedics - their service is always great when they actually get here.
“My husband and I think it has got a lot to do with the cutbacks.”
It was revealed almost a year ago that North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) NHS Foundation Trust must save £20m over the next five years.
Consultation is ongoing over a new structure, which would mean relocating some ambulances across the region and an expanded non-emergency tier to respond to urgent care patients who are not 999 emergencies.
In South Tyneside, the proposals mean South Shields would lose its urgent care ambulance, leaving it with two dual crew ambulances and three rapid response vehicles.
Monkton, meanwhile, will gain an urgent care ambulance, but lose a dual crew ambulance.
Union chiefs have expressed concern about the impact this will have on both staff and services.
Adrian Gilbert, acting general secretary of the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, said cutbacks across the NHS are having an impact on patients.
“Some of the delays we are facing are down to ambulance service cutbacks inflicted by the Government,” he said.
“It is hospital cuts as well. If a hospital cuts its A&E department, patients may need to travel to another hospital, so a five-minute journey may turn into a 20-minute journey.
“If wards are closing, patients are backing up in A&E departments, which leads to delays as we can’t offload.
“We have every sympathy with patients and their relatives, but it is not always necessarily down fully to the ambulance service.”