Rome's fleet of 80 ambulances came to a standstill for two hours during the afternoon of 9 January thanks to a shortage of hospital beds. The crisis was caused after patients were required to wait long periods in the emergency vehicles outside casualty departments until beds became available.
The director of Rome's 118 ambulance service Livio De Angelis described the service as "deeply at risk" and contacted the heads of the city's various casualty departments for the immediate release of the ambulances, some of which he said had been blocked since late on 8 January. De Angelis sent the same letter to the city and regional authorities, calling for "all institutions involved to intervene". His appeal led to the health minister Renato Balduzzi requesting an urgent report on the matter.
According to sources in Rome's ambulance service, on 9 January 25 vehicles were stuck waiting outside hospitals and the other 55 were busy responding to call outs. The source said that the problem is generally most acute in the eastern area of the capital (served by the Pertini hospital, the Policlinico Tor Vergata and the Policlinico Casilino) but at this stage it is "now common to the whole city" and that the situation would get worse if not resolved before the upcoming predicted peak of 'flu cases.
In Rome an average of 3,000 emergency calls for ambulances are received each day. The ambulances intervene in roughly half of these calls, depending on whether the operators deem the case to be an emergency or not.
Part of the problem has been the cut back in hospital beds during the economic crisis, part the rise in cases of 'flu in recent weeks, part the slowdown in the procedure for admissions and releases from hospitals over the Christmas / New Year / Epiphany public holidays.