Concerns as Northern Ireland ambulance bosses face hygiene sanctions
Politicinas have expressed their shock after it emerged that ambulance bosses are facing official sanctions for repeatedly failing to address the problem of filthy vehicles and blood-splattered equipment.
Last Friday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed how bloodstains found by inspectors in one ambulance station during an unannounced visit were still there two months later.
Around half of the 21 stations inspected had hygiene problems in February, Northern Ireland's health watchdog found.
The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) was so concerned, it asked the Department of Health to bring in a senior practitioner with experience in infection prevention and control, governance and assurance.
SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan MLA said: "This has caused significant alarm among people throughout our communities, who expect the highest standards of hygiene when they need medical intervention.
"It's clear that resource pressures continue to have a very significant impact on all these matters."
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said she was concerned by the news, but it showed that the inspection system was working.
She added: "It is a matter of record, and has been for a frustratingly long time, that the ambulance service is understaffed and front-line ambulance staff are operating under extraordinary pressure.
"The cleanliness issues arising are in many ways an inevitable consequence."
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said: "An ambulance is a clinical environment, so it is important that the highest standard of hygiene and cleanliness is maintained.
"The fact that half of ambulances inspected by the RQIA weren't of a satisfactory hygiene standard is therefore deeply concerning."
The ambulance service said it was "committed to take all necessary steps to ensure our stations and vehicles meet the high standards required to protect the patients who use our services".