Ambulance Service could reach breaking point: Middleton

Foyle MLA Gary Middleton said NIAS staff shortages need to be addressed
Foyle MLA Gary Middleton said NIAS staff shortages need to be addressed

Northern Ireland’s ambulance service (NIAS) could reach “breaking point” if staff shortages are not addressed, the deputy chair of Stormont’s health committee has said.

NIAS has revealed it sought support from voluntary and private ambulances over the weekend after leave, sickness and cancelled overtime left the service short of around 12 ambulance crews.

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service vehicle.

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service vehicle.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said it was fortunate there were no serious incidents which would have stretched resources beyond their capacity.

“Paramedic staff are under pressure and over the weekend was a particularly difficult period for them, but at the same time, thankfully nobody went without care – those who required it got it.

“But had there been a serious incident, I think we could have been in trouble in terms of emergency care.

“An additional £72 million was made available in the June monitoring round for health. Some of that was to go to emergency response, and I think what we need to see at this time is an urgent recruitment campaign to get new staff in to relieve the pressure on existing staff,” he said.

Mr Middleton added: “If it continues the way it’s going, it’s going to go to breaking point.”

John McPoland of the NIAS said: “We have been dealing with situations like this for quite a while now. We’re absolutely not happy about it but we will take steps to try to address it.”

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said she was concerned that rural communities are particularly at risk during NIAS staff shortages.

“This is a clear warning to the ministers for health and finance that adequate and meaningful monies must be allocated to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Trust so that they can recruit sufficient paramedics to undertake an accessible local health and medical service that is able to deal with emergency calls for those who are sick, particularly in rural communities like south Down,” she said.