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Delays hit patients after pay row ambulance staff strike for a day

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 07/05/2015

Patients across Northern Ireland faced delays waiting for ambulances, with some forced to stay in hospital overnight because of the 24-hour strike by 999 crews.

The strike involving around 250 Unite members ended at midnight amid the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) warning the action would have an impact on the speed which emergency calls were responded to.

NIAS targets stipulate that crews should seek to respond to 72.5% of all potentially immediately life-threatening calls known as Category A throughout Northern Ireland within eight minutes.

John McPoland, from the NIAS, last night said the performance was around 41%. However, he said that due to pressures facing the ambulance service the Category A response times had dropped recently with the target remaining around 55%.

"Performance standard today is 41%, that would normally expect to be in the mid-50s," he said.

"Our target is 72.5% which we haven't been attaining for quite some time because of the difficulties we have been experiencing over the past number of months," he told the BBC.

The industrial action over a 1% pay dispute led to around 17 ambulances of the 62 in use being unavailable during the day.

The pay rise has been given to staff across the UK except in Northern Ireland. Unions said the action was also over safe working conditions. Contingency plans were used to respond to calls, with the most critically injured or clinically ill patients prioritised first.

Those with less serious complaints were warned they could experience prolonged waits for ambulance response.

The strike also had an impact on patients relying on transfers from hospital.

A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Trust said: "We were not able to discharge four patients from the Ulster Hospital this evening as a result of the strike."

It is understood by mid-afternoon the A&E department at the Royal Victoria Hospital was also busy.

However, there were concerns that services would be affected later in the day when patients needed to be transferred to different hospitals.

The action also came at the same time of a 14-day period of "working to rule" by Unison and GMB, with ongoing action by Nipsa.

Unite's Kevin McAdam said workers were "outraged" at the failure of the Department of Health, Social Service and Public Safety (DHSSPS) to deliver on a fair and equitable pay rise.

A DHSSPS spokeswoman said that, despite moves by the government to negotiate, trade unions were not prepared to talk.

Former Health Hinister and member of the Stormont Health Committee Michael McGimpsey said pay concerns needed to be addressed.

"We should never have got to this point. I think this should have been a point of ministerial intervention," he said.

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