Lack of ambulance cover in parts of Northern Ireland beggars belief
Members of the public confidently expect that when they ring 999 in a medical emergency an ambulance will be despatched to them within a short period of time. That seems the natural reaction from one of the emergency services and certainly is the picture portrayed in those reality television programmes monitoring how ambulance personnel, police or fire and rescue services go about their job.
They will therefore be alarmed by our story today which shows that for 121 days out of one period of 181 days between November last year and April this year there was no emergency ambulance cover in the Northern Trust area.
That is an astonishing statistic. The Northern Trust area covers some of the more remote parts of Northern Ireland and it is imperative that people have access to emergency services when needed.
The response of the NI Ambulance Service when questioned about the lack of cover was equally astonishing. Essentially it said it was relying on a statistical model using historical data to determine where to place it ambulances.
Essentially it was guessing where the demand was likely to be at any time. It beggars belief that any statistical model can foresee the future with such certainty.
Just because past evidence shows that there were fewer serious car accidents or people collapsing with heart attacks or some other acute illness in a particular area in the past does not mean that such incidents will occur on the day that someone has sited an ambulance miles away.
Of course the Ambulance Service is not playing this guessing game for fun, but because it does not have the resources to provide a proper round-the-clock service. And it has to be admitted that the job of those providing emergency ambulance services is stressful and draining.
When the paramedics and ambulance crews arrive at any location they work with great professionalism and their work is appreciated by those they assist.
But they will know that every minute that it takes them to arrive at an acute incident diminishes the chance of the patient making a full and speedy recovery. And the longer the delay the greater the distress to the family circle of the person involved.
It is ironic that we have just introduced a hugely expensive emergency flying ambulance at a time when we cannot properly provide emergency crews on the ground.