Job losses as Red Cross axes its ambulance services in Northern Ireland
Ambulance staff in Northern Ireland are facing redundancy following a "devastating" decision by the British Red Cross to withdraw local services.
The charity said its service, for non-emergency transfers of patients across the province, was no longer financially viable and that 23 staff would be directly affected by the move.
The GMB union, which represents ambulance workers, said the decision would mean that "loyal, skilled and hard-working ambulance staff are now facing a very unhappy New Year". It claimed more than 40 ambulance support personnel were actually at risk from redundancy.
A 30-day consultation on the job losses is to begin on January 22, with the entire service to end by April 30.
GMB organiser Michael Mulholland accused the Red Cross of ignoring repeated attempts to secure the future of the service and members' jobs.
"Our members in the Red Cross ambulance service are angry and upset at this devastating decision," he said.
"We are further concerned about the process of consultation and would ask for clarity to enable us to offer our members the support required."
The DUP health spokesperson and Strangford MP Jim Shannon urged the Red Cross to reconsider.
"It's disappointing they're unable to continue the good work that they do," he said.
"Before the end date of April 30 I would call on them to review that decision and retain the good, loyal staff they have."
The SDLP's health spokesperson, MLA Mark H Durkan, said: "This is very bad news, not only for those dedicated drivers and staff that have worked to provide a reliable and relied upon service, but also for the countless patients that they transport day in and day out."
Mr Durkan said that while the Red Cross focused its energies elsewhere, the decision "has caused distress to staff and potentially disruption to healthcare services".
He called it "imperative" that health trusts holding arrangements with the Red Cross now worked with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to ensure that patient care is not compromised.
David Morison, operational lead for the Red Cross ambulance support service in Northern Ireland, said: "As a charity, we have a clear responsibility to make the best use of our resources and use them in the most effective and cost-efficient way possible."
He added that all other Red Cross partnership work would be unaffected by the closure and the 23 staff members were being supported throughout the process.
"We would like to take the opportunity to thank our dedicated staff who have provided a high quality and compassionate service to patients over the past two years."