Twenty-one Victorians have died waiting for an ambulance over the past six months, a budget estimates hearing has been told.

Failures in the triple-zero system have been blamed for 18 of the deaths with three attributed to paramedics not getting to patients on time, Ambulance Victoria’s acting chief executive, Libby Murphy, said on Friday.

Excessive demand for ambulances resulted in four “code red” events while a “code orange” had been called 51 times, Murphy revealed at the estimates hearing.

Response time targets were not being met, with paramedics attending the most serious cases within the recommended 15 minutes only 60% of the time, the inquiry was told.

The opposition MP James Newbury accused the health minister, Martin Foley, of having blood on his hands during Friday’s hearing. He called on Foley to apologise to families.

“We have 21 deaths, this isn’t a joke,” Newbury said. “Those families deserve the word sorry, minister, and here is your opportunity.”

Foley told the hearing he had apologised and that any death was a tragedy.

The state government announced on Thursday a major overhaul of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (Esta).

A report into Esta by the former Victoria police chief commissioner Graham Ashton found “continued and systematic underperformance” within the service.

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Ashton made 20 recommendations, including moving the authority into the Department of Justice and Community Safety, renaming it Triple Zero Victoria and disbanding the current board. All have been accepted in principle by the government.

Earlier on Friday, Foley dodged questions about when he first received the Esta report.

The health minister said his department had a number of opportunities to respond to the review but would not say when it first landed on his desk.

Source: The Guardian