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Staff must be careful, says ambulance boss as Craigavon ambulance staff test positive for Covid after golf trip


Warning: Nigel Ruddell said the risk to ambulance staff was on the rise

Warning: Nigel Ruddell said the risk to ambulance staff was on the rise

Warning: Nigel Ruddell said the risk to ambulance staff was on the rise

The medical director of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has said he cannot control how staff spend their spare time after some tested positive for Covid-19 following a golf trip to the Republic of Ireland.

Nigel Ruddell spoke out after this newspaper revealed 10 ambulance station staff in Craigavon had tested positive for coronavirus. A further six were advised to isolate.

"We cannot legislate for what our staff members do in their spare time," Mr Ruddell told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

"Our staff have been working extremely hard since February and March, when this all started. They deserve downtime.

"We would expect all of our staff to act responsibly, to not put themselves at risk, to not put their families at risk and, of course, to not put their patients and the public at risk."

NIAS chief executive Michael Bloomfield said the organisation was in contact with the workers who had tested positive and was making sure they received help.

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He pointed out that the incident happened almost two weeks ago and said he hoped to see staff returning to work after completing their periods of isolation. Mr Bloomfield added not one of the employees was seriously ill.

"Craigavon station has approximately 60 staff. There were a total of 15 people who were on this trip. Twelve of them were ambulance staff. Ten of those have tested positive and two have not," he told the BBC.

"It is a considerable proportion of the staff in Craigavon station.

"They're not all staff who provide the emergency ambulance response. These staff provide a number of roles, including our non-emergency transport.

"Our review has established this was a community transmission. It was not through work.

"We believe the first person who tested positive on September 13 contracted that through a family member.

"A number of staff being away together for a number of days, that is how it ( was) passed on.

"It just highlights how contagious this virus is and remind us all that we must remain vigilant at all times."

SDLP health spokesman Colin McGrath MLA called for understanding for affected workers.

"I understand the NIAS staff didn't break any rules. They weren't doing anything other than going to a restaurant and having a meal after an event," he said.

"If they didn't break the rules, then we shouldn't be judging them.

"I know that there are people working in the health service who are making incredible sacrifices, but we shouldn't be expecting anyone to make a sacrifice beyond what we're asking everybody to do.

"Until there is a vaccine for the virus, we have to balance and minimise these risks."

Separately, three staff members at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry have tested positive for Covid-19.

Another 15 employees have taken time off work and are isolating as a precaution.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust said all 23 patients on the affected ward had returned negative tests for Covid-19.

Spokesman Dr Bob Brown added: "The trust is taking all the necessary infection prevention and control measures to protect our patients and staff.

"The Department of Health and Public Health Agency have been informed."

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