Firefighters have accused the ambulance service of "trying to fix a gaping wound with a sticking plaster" as the wait for paramedics gets longer and longer.

Police officers have also criticised the service, claiming they have been forced to use their cars as makeshift ambulances to take people to hospital.

This comes just weeks after paramedics contacted the Watford Observer, claiming the ambulance service was "in a state of collapse".

Keith Handscomb, from East Anglia Fire Brigades Union, said: "Fire crews are telling us something is going seriously wrong with the 999 response of the East of England ambulance service.

"Paramedic colleagues have told us privately about their concerns, but they are afraid to speak out.

"They tell us that the ambulance trust is finding ever-more dubious ways to tick the boxes in trying to meet their performance targets, while caring less and less about the standard of medical response."

In January the Watford Observer reported how the East of England Ambulance NHS Trust is facing a £50million cut over five years, while logging an extra 20 per cent of 999 calls during 2012.

There was an increase in the number of people in Hertfordshire waiting more than half an hour for an ambulance, from 37 in December 2011, to 376 in November 2012.

The trust is hoping to solve the delays by hiring 140 new staff, and by bringing in better rotas and improved communication with hospitals, to reduce handover times.

Mr Handscomb added: "Something needs to be done but looking for a sticking plaster to treat a gaping wound is not the answer.

"For those who find themselves in medical emergencies, this is a matter of life and death importance."

Mr Handscomb also suggested the ambulance trust had sent private ambulances to car crashes where none of the crew had the medical skills needed to deal with the emergency.

He added: "Casualties are waiting longer for the arrival of ambulances, and when a paramedic does arrive, they are often on their own in a car and are unable to take seriously injured casualties to hospital.

"Fire officers tell us of their desperate frustration at being told to wait in line when chasing up emergency requests for the attendance of an ambulance.

"Sometimes they are told the ambulance sent to their emergency has been redirected to another call due to there being no other ambulance available."

Vojislav Mihailovic, general secretary of Hertfordshire Police Federation, echoed these concerns, and said he was aware of police officers being called upon to transport patients to hospital when no ambulance was available.

More worryingly, he said, was the growing number of officers who were being called upon to medically assess injured or ill patients.

Mr Mihailovic added: "Police officers are now expected to make a medical decision whether someone is seriously injured or not. They are not trained medics.

"If you move someone who is injured and it worsens the condition, the police officer will end up under investigation rather than properly trained medical professionals.

"We are an emergency service, and we are suffering budget cuts the same as everyone else."

Lorna Marsh, from the ambulance trust, argued that the most common incidents to require all three emergency services were road traffic collisions, the majority of which did not cause serious injury.

She suggested long delays were often down to patients being classed as a non-emergency, rather than a lack of ambulances.

She added: "We have already revealed plans to improve our response times with a raft of measures.

"It is important to remember response targets are set from between eight minutes to an hour according to thoroughly assessed clinical need.

"While a longer target may not be ideal for police and fire crews, it means those in life-threatening situations are prioritised, similar to the way they are at A&E, to get life-saving help first."