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Lives 'were put at risk' after emergency 999 line failed with calls diverted to Scotland

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 15/08/2015

Calls to the ambulance service were diverted to staff mobile phones and colleagues in Scotland
Calls to the ambulance service were diverted to staff mobile phones and colleagues in Scotland

Urgent answers are needed as lives could have been put at risk during a fault on the ambulance service's 999 emergency line, a Ulster Unionist MLA has claimed.

Calls seeking ambulance assistance were answered in Scotland and on staff mobile phones for several hours yesterday afternoon because of a technical fault.

Throughout the incident, the service received 117 emergency calls.

The ambulance service informed the media of the fault around 2.30pm.

It said that it had implemented its contingency plans where BT diverted emergency calls to dedicated mobile phones held within ambulance control, or alternatively to the Scottish Ambulance Service, which then relayed the call back to Northern Ireland ambulance staff.

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) spokesman asked for co-operation from the public and requested that they only contact the ambulance service in the case of real emergencies while the service worked with BT to identify and remedy the fault.

The problem was said to have been resolved before 6pm after the telephone system had been re-booted and monitored.

A NIAS spokesman confirmed that emergency calls were being received and handled in the normal way. He added: "We are confident at this stage that all calls requiring a 999 response were received and dealt with appropriately. BT will continue to monitor the system over the weekend and further diagnostics will be performed to identify reasons for the fault and steps taken to mitigate against its re-occurrence."

The spokesman also thanked those who shared its messages on social and broadcast media and paid tribute to staff in the control centre.

He also thanked the Scottish Ambulance Service, which worked through the contingency arrangements to ensure that anyone needing help received an ambulance response.

However, last night Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson called for an urgent review of the systems and protocols in place.

She said: "I am deeply concerned to hear that a fault occurred causing calls to the 999 service to be diverted.

"The immediate focus is on the reinstatement of normal service, but after that we need an urgent investigation into how this happened and where the failure occurred.

"This is a critical service and it is up to the Health Minister to get across this as a matter of urgency to stop it happening again. Urgent answers are needed as lives could be put at risk."

The Upper Bann MLA said that she had written to Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service, Liam McIvor, asking for an update on the service protocols and any third party contract which exists given the life-critical nature of the 999 service.

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