A toddler with severe head injuries died after emergency services took 2 1/2 hours to get her to hospital.
St John Ambulance confirmed an internal investigation was under way, amid claims its officers lost precious time before finally calling a rescue helicopter for the little girl.
Cherishsiliala Tahuri-Wright, 3, known as Cherish, suffered severe head injuries at a house in Marton on February 17, police allege. A 56-year-old woman, charged with her murder, is in custody.
Although emergency services were alerted about 12.15pm, the critically hurt toddler did not arrive at Palmerston North Hospital till 2.40pm.
"It really pisses me off to think they dicked around for a couple of hours while a little girl was dying," said family spokeswoman and Porirua Deputy Mayor Litea Ah Hoi.
"You don't have to be Einstein to work out a child with head injuries has to go straight to hospital any parent would know that instinctively."
After emergency services and police were alerted to Cherish's injuries, it is understood that an ambulance was sent from Feilding, about 25 minutes' drive away.
Another ambulance was sent from Wanganui but was stood down just five minutes from Marton because a rescue helicopter was called.
The helicopter was alerted just before 1pm and delivered Cherish to Palmerston North Hospital by 2.40pm.
A concerned St John paramedic told The Dominion Post that the ambulance officer who initially responded from Feilding sought backup when he realised he lacked experience to treat the badly injured girl.
The paramedic said the blunder was another sign that ambulance services were at "crisis point".
"Why wasn't she taken taken straight to hospital? That's the big question. This kind of disorganisation is normal to us, it happens all the time."
St John would not discuss the criticism other than to confirm that an internal investigation was under way.
Cherish was flown to Palmerston North Hospital, then to Wellington Hospital's neurological unit that night. Her life support was switched off the next day.
It is just 35-40 minutes' drive from Marton to Palmerston North.
The paramedic said he was stunned that Cherish was not taken to hospital immediately. The delays were unacceptable.
"The whole thing's woefully inadequate. It was 2 1/2 hours before that child got to hospital. She was in a critical state and that's when they need to get to hospital in a very short time."
A St John spokeswoman confirmed a local doctor, employed by the ambulance service, was sent to the house where Cherish was after the emergency call came in about 12.15pm.
Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Sheridan, who headed the murder inquiry, said the ambulance response had been "first rate".
He understood the delay was because of the time it took to stabilise Cherish for transport.
Criticism of Cherish's treatment comes as Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced a $10 million injection for the beleaguered ambulance sector.
- The Dominion Post