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Why did ambulance take 10 hours to reach Jimmy (79), leaving him to die alone?

Jimmy Cassidy was found dead at his home in north Belfast by an ambulance which took 10 hours to reach him. Picture by Hugh Russell

A pensioner died alone in his north Belfast home while an ambulance took 10 hours to reach him.

The Ambulance Service has begun an internal investigation after Jimmy Cassidy was found dead in the bathroom of his home at Brookvale Fold in the early hours of Sunday.

The 79-year-old, who at one time ran a shop on Dawson Street and a supermarket in Tigers Bay, had been found collapsed the evening before by a friend, Michael O'Reilly.

Mr O'Reilly, who owns the Salad Bowl shop on Donegall Street, regularly brought groceries to Mr Cassidy, who had become housebound in recent months after a fight with cancer and a fall.

He said when he arrived at his home at Brookvale Avenue at around 7pm on Saturday, he found the pensioner collapsed on the floor.

After calling for an ambulance, he put a blanket over him to keep him warm.

Mr O'Reilly said by 9pm he called again before helping his friend into bed.

He had to leave at 11.15pm but left the door open so ambulance personnel could let themselves in.

However, at around 7am on Sunday, Mr O'Reilly was informed by police that Mr Cassidy had been found dead at 5am when the ambulance eventually arrived.

He said he wanted answers as to why it took 10 hours for paramedics to reach his friend, who grew up an orphan and lost his wife, Maisie, 10 years ago. The couple had no children.

He said that when he found Mr Cassidy, he was "weak as water".

"He was just lying there. He was cold. I put a blanket on him and put socks on him and gloves on him."

Mr O'Reilly said when a call was made to ask where the ambulance was, they were told it was "very busy" and it was "emergencies only".

"If I had known he was dying, I wouldn't have left the house," he said.

"I thought the ambulance would have been there shortly.

"He had nobody. I can't take it in - it's disgraceful. It could happen to somebody else."

Mr O'Reilly described Mr Cassidy, who died of a heart attack, as a "gentleman".

"We had a laugh. He was very kind. He was fit mad. He walked everywhere and he had a black belt in judo."

A spokesman for the Ambulance Service said it was "aware of the concerns surrounding this call and have commenced an internal investigation into the circumstances pertaining at the time".

"As such, NIAS is unable to provide any further comment at this time".

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon last night said "serious questions need to be answered".

"Why was an ambulance not sent out and if an ambulance had been sent out, could it have saved this gentleman's life?" she said.

"It's a cause of concern for the whole community."

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