Patients being told to ‘make their own way’ to hospitals due to pressures
Patients facing some of the most time critical conditions are at “an increased risk” as a result of significant staff shortages in the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme, NIAS Chief Executive Michael Bloomfield said one quarter of people working in the service are currently absent as a result of both typical sickness levels and Covid-19.
He laid out the significant pressure the service is under presently, confirming a number of patients in the past number of weeks have been told by ambulance operators to “make their own way to hospital”.
He said the current pressures are “the most significant” faced throughout the pandemic and said the service is relying on “huge flexibility and goodwill” from staff.
Last Thursday the NIAS issued an appeal for the public to make their own way to hospital if possible, instead of dialling 999 in the first instance.
They said however that in life threatening situations 999 should still be used immediately.
The pressures come as Northern Ireland recorded another three deaths linked to Covid-19 and 7,133 new cases.
In the past seven days 50,250 positive cases have been reported compared to 34,924 in the previous week.
Hospitals are also at 108% capacity with eight out of 12 hospitals running over capacity.
“Only through the huge flexibility and goodwill of our staff. We are obviously heavily reliant on overtime in order to provide a reasonable level of ambulance cover,” said Mr Bloomfield
“Those staff have been doing that now for close to two years... they really are so tired in doing that and we keep asking them to step up and do so much more.
“We now are seeing the impact on our response times we are seeing much increased response times including to some of the most serious calls.
“We are now quite often having to ask people, when they call 999, if they are able to make their own way to hospital to please do that, because it is highly unlikely we will be able to get them an ambulance in a reasonable time.”
He added: “Those response times that we have to respond to patients, they are there for a reason. They are there to give patients the best possible chance of an outcome.
“If we are meant to get to some calls in 8 minutes or 18 minutes and instead it is taking us 30 minutes and over an hour and those are for our category one or two calls, then when we arrive at hospitals they are waiting outside in the ambulance for sometimes hours - the outcome on those patients will be impacted.
“Those timescales are there for a reason. Patients are at an increased risk given the length of time they are waiting.
“It is a totally unsatisfactory position our staff are very concerned about the length of time they are taking to get to some calls.”