The head of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has expressed "regret" after it emerged Belfast was left without a paramedic on duty one night last month.
On April 26, a Saturday night, seven emergency crews were due to be on duty in the city - however due to vacancies, leave and sickness, only four crews operated until midnight.
This then reduced to three crews, none of which contained paramedics from 2.30am onwards. The shortages were reported by The Irish News on Tuesday.
Instead, the NIAS relied on non-emergency staff, who are unable to administer many life-saving treatments, such as adrenalin and morphine, and voluntary and private ambulance services.
NIAS chief executive, Michael Bloomfield, said: “It is a source of regret to me whenever ambulance cover is depleted due to lack of available resources and the potential impact this may have on the community we serve.
"Demand for NIAS services has increased significantly over recent years without a corresponding increase in ambulance resources. We are working to address the issue and fill existing vacancies with ongoing regional recruitments and training.
"A Paramedic Foundation Degree programme commenced in January 2019 in partnership with Ulster University and 48 students are expected to qualify in November 2019.
"In addition 48 EMTs are due to complete their training and become operational later this month. Further training programmes are planned to start later this year."
Mr Bloomfield added that there are 352 paramedics across Northern Ireland, with 38 current vacancies, and more than 120 additional paramedics are needed to implement a proposed new Clinical Response Model.
"I would like to express my gratitude to those staff, on the frontline and in ambulance control, who continue to work tirelessly to ensure that an ambulance response is provided to those who have an immediate and life-threatening need,” he added.
Earlier this week, the Belfast Telegraph revealed a disgruntled NIAS employee took to Facebook to post a damning assessment of the stress paramedics in Northern Ireland face on a daily basis.
In a statement, NIAS said they had temporarily removed the paramedic in question from duty due to concerns about his mental wellbeing.