People tending to an injured football player feared she could have been paralysed permanently as they waited two hours for an ambulance.
St John was called to Gordon Spratt Reserve in Pāpāmoa at 11.32am on Sunday after a player was injured in a match being played there.
However, an ambulance didn't arrive until almost 1.30pm and staff then called for a helicopter to airlift the patient to hospital. They were taken to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition.
St John has apologised for any distress the wait caused, with a spokesman saying there was record demand for ambulance services nationwide.
Papamoa FC president Maaka Nelson confirmed the injury and wait time.
Women's co-ordinator Jo Arnold was present at the incident and said by the time the player had been taken to hospital, she had been on the ground for three hours.
Arnold said the player had a "very bad" back injury and was in extreme pain with even small movements. She had no pain relief.
"Those involved in her immediate care were concerned for her wellbeing and we tried to keep her as still and comfortable as possible.
"It was a very upsetting time for all those involved. We had big concerns she could have been paralysed permanently."
Arnold said the player was expected to make a full recovery in time.
"I will add the ambulance staff were in regular contact as to their status and they were making inquiries as to our player's condition, they were being diverted to other emergencies."
St John Central East Area operations manager Mat Delaney confirmed paramedics had been called at 11.32am.
An ambulance was not initially dispatched based on the information provided at the time and the call was prioritised for a clinician to call back within 30 minutes.
At 11.48am a nurse called back and the incident was reprioritised to serious but not life-threatening.
"We attempted to dispatch an ambulance however, at the time, St John Ambulance was facing very high demand and all available ambulances were already committed to other emergencies."
An ambulance was dispatched at 12.17pm but diverted to a more life-threatening emergency on the way.
Delaney said St John conducted three welfare checks between 12.21 and 1.24pm with no change reported in the patient's condition during those times.
He said the organisation was experiencing record demand for ambulance services nationwide.
"As a result some patients are waiting longer for an ambulance, and we apologise for any distress caused."
The next available ambulance was dispatched at 1.05pm and arrived at 1.28pm.
A helicopter was requested to take the patient to hospital.
"We encourage the patient or their support person to be in direct contact with us if they are not satisfied with the care provided."
Delaney said St John would continue to implement measures to manage the impact of demand on the emergency ambulance service.
This included prioritising the most life-threatening calls first and for clinical teams to carry out welfare checks over the phone on patients waiting for an ambulance, he said.
He recommended people feeling generally unwell and needing health advice call their regular health provider or Healthline in the first instance and consider alternative methods of transport to medical facilities for non-urgent conditions.
"If it is a life-threatening emergency, people should continue to dial 111 for an ambulance."