Belfast Telegraph

Ambulance service warns of weekend shortages at night

The situation has arisen because of insufficient staff (stock photo)
The situation has arisen because of insufficient staff (stock photo)

By Mairead Holland

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has warned of ambulance shortages this weekend, particularly during night shifts.

The situation has arisen because of insufficient staff.

Less urgent cases are most likely to be affected and "additional measures" are being put in place, the service said.

The issue was highlighted in a letter sent yesterday to the directors of all five health trusts and the Health and Social Care Board by Robert Sowney, interim director of operations at the ambulance service. Mr Sowney said the service was "anticipating and planning for ambulance resource challenges this weekend".

The letter continued: "We have been unable to completely fill our staffing rosters for various reasons and this will impact on the number of ambulances available - in particular during the night shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

Mr Sowney said a number of additional measures are being put in place.

But he said it is likely colleagues across the health and social care sector "will experience delays in NIAS response to less urgent requests for transport".

However, there will be "increased ambulance service management presence" both in local areas and within emergency ambulance control.

He added: "We would also request the support of HSC Trust colleagues in relation to minimising any delays in patient handover at emergency departments so we can make our staff available to answer urgent calls in the community as quickly as possible."

Mr Sowney asked for the information to be shared with GP practices and out-of-hours providers.

In a lengthy statement the NIAS said they were working to address staff shortages.

The statement read: "The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has been experiencing recent challenges in providing a fully resourced service. The issue has been highlighted a number of times in various media outlets. The reasons are multi-faceted and include issues such as increased demand on service, turnaround times at hospital, staff vacancies, rostered annual leave and sickness absence.

"NIAS has been addressing the issue of staff vacancies through intense recruitment and training programmes including Paramedic, Associate Ambulance Practitioner (AAP) and Ambulance Care Assistant (ACA) courses.

"Forty-eight paramedics will complete their course of study in November 2019 and we currently have two AAP courses ongoing which will provide us with approximately another forty eight AAPs for frontline duties. These posts will supplement the forty eight AAPs who recently qualified and are currently working in various stations throughout NI.

"NIAS also continues to train ACAs who will backfill vacancies created by staff progressing their careers on AAP courses.

"NIAS has recently consulted on a new Clinical Response Model which will better target our highly skilled clinical staff at the most serious calls while ensuring the most appropriate response to less urgent calls. The implementation of this response model will require significant investment to provide more than 300 extra staff. The Trust continues to work with DoH in this regard.

"However, implementing all of these measures will take time and in the meantime NIAS will continue to experience times of increased pressure and we will work with our partners throughout the Healthcare system to ensure that our crews are available to respond to emergencies as quickly as possible. The Health and Social Care Trusts continue to work with us to find lasting solutions to improve hospital turnaround times. 

"NIAS has recognised that this weekend will be a challenging one and has today asked the co-operation of the other Trusts by minimising delays in patient handovers at Emergency Department. This is a normal and appropriate part of our established escalation arrangements. 

"NIAS staff will work tirelessly over the weekend, and beyond, to ensure that those who are most in need of our service, receive the quickest and most appropriate response."

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