Belfast Telegraph

Patients suffer for third night amid Ambulance Service staffing crisis in Northern Ireland

The NI Ambulance Service struggled to find enough staff to cover shifts at the weekend
The NI Ambulance Service struggled to find enough staff to cover shifts at the weekend
Medical Director: Nigel Ruddell

By Lisa Smyth

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has experienced significant staff shortages for the third night in a row.

However, it did not seek assistance from colleagues in the Republic last night, as happened on Friday and Saturday.

Dr Nigel Ruddell, the medical director of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), said it was expecting 20% of crews to be unavailable last night.

But he said measures were in place, including using voluntary and private ambulance services, to help plug the gap.

"We are doing everything we can to provide as high a level of cover as we can," he explained.

"We are going to prioritise those calls which have the most critical need.

"Unfortunately, those people who have a less critical need are the ones who will wait longer, and we apologise for that."

One paramedic said he feared colleagues would find it impossible to provide a safe service throughout the night, particularly in Belfast, where upwards of 10,000 people were expected to attend the last night of the Feile in the west of the city.

"The simple fact is there aren't enough of us to respond to the calls we're getting," he said.

"We're being slaughtered, it's no wonder so many people are off sick."

NIAS bosses were forced to draft in ambulance crews from the Republic to work in Newry and Londonderry overnight on Friday and Saturday.

In June, a paramedic working in the Newry area claimed patients were dying in front of his eyes because of a dangerous lack of ambulances and staff.

According to the health service employee, in one particularly distressing incident several months prior to speaking out, a woman in her 70s suffered a stroke and went without vital treatment because she waited so long for an ambulance.

"We are heading, if we're not already there, towards a cliff edge," he said.

"It's major incident time, I believe.

"Management don't want to have to hit that nuclear option, but it's upon us now.

This can't go on," the whistleblower added.

Meanwhile, in May, another paramedic said his colleagues were being pushed to the brink of suicide by their working conditions.

The NIAS employee posted a scathing Facebook message accusing management of treating staff with contempt.

The devastating post urged bosses to act urgently to address working conditions "before you wake up to a headline some day that will haunt you for the rest of your days".

He was subsequently stood down from duty by NIAS bosses.

Paramedics have claimed they can work entire shifts without toilet or food breaks and that working conditions are driving a growing number of NIAS staff to go on sick leave.

As NIAS bosses appealed for staff to come in and help out over the weekend, one paramedic said: "We've been telling them for months that we're heading for a crisis and look what has happened.

"Yes, sick levels are high but is it any wonder with the way we're working and the way we're being treated?

"It's a nightmare, people are just being burnt out, they can't take any more."

NIAS implemented a number of measures over the weekend to try and meet demand on the service.

This included the option of turning to the air ambulance for assistance, although it is not known whether this was required over the weekend.

Special staff have been working in emergency departments across the province to help reduce the length of time it takes for paramedics to hand over patients to staff in hospital casualty units.

NIAS also said it would provide food and refreshments for ambulance crews and control staff throughout the weekend.

Belfast Telegraph


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