Is there a starker commentary on the state of the health service here than ambulances in the Republic being on standby in case they’re needed in Northern Ireland?
That is the situation we find ourselves in this bank holiday weekend as the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) is compelled to reach out to its southern counterpart, the National Ambulance Service (NAS) for help.
In a statement yesterday, the NIAS spoke of operating under “extreme pressure”. It urged the public not to ring 999 unless they urgently require medical attention.
Some non-emergency patients are being asked to make their own way to hospital so ambulances can attend more urgent calls. The Health Minister, Robin Swann, used similar language on Tuesday, when he said the health service is under “unprecedented pressures” and is struggling to cope.
It was also revealed yesterday that the amount the health service spent on private ambulances doubled last year to almost £14m.
Of course, the need for ambulances waxes and wanes and perhaps the bank holiday, good weather, Eleventh Night bonfires and Twelfth of July demonstrations will combine to create a spike in demand.
It is also refreshing, in these days of cross-border finger-pointing, to see the two ambulance services on the island acting like grown-ups and offering mutual aid.
But there is something deeply shaming when a so-called advanced society in the 21st century cannot even convey its sick and injured to hospital.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster has stated that the transformation of health and social care in line with the recommendations of the Bengoa and Delivering Together reports is urgently needed if services are to keep pace with demand.
Bengoa — now almost five years old — characterised health and social care as dallying in the last-chance saloon.
Like climate change, we are reacting too late to something we should have done 10 years ago. One wonders how many last chances we’re going to get.