Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA has warned that the decision by the Red Cross to withdraw their local ambulance service will only increase pressure on the NI Ambulance Service's already dangerously stretched paramedics.
Roy Beggs said:
“The British Red Cross, along with other charities such as St John’s Ambulance, have for some time been playing an important role in assisting the safe and timely operation of local ambulance services.
“This includes carrying out non-emergency ambulance transfers and stepping up to assist local hospitals at times of peak demand, including over the recent Christmas period. They have played an absolutely essential role over recent times in helping to alleviate some of the pressure on the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).
“The decision by the Red Cross to withdraw from the contracted Ambulance Support work they undertake by the 30 April 2018 is worrying on two fronts.
“It no doubt came as a great shock to the dozens of trained part-time and full-time paramedics it employs who are now facing a very uncertain future.
“The decision has also now heaped further pressure on a local ambulance service which is already close to breaking point. It is no exaggeration to say that many patients would have suffered and would not have received appropriate healthcare without the backup support from charities such as the Red Cross.
“The loss of these additional supporting ambulances and paramedics means that a sparse service will have to be spread even more thinly. It will likely contribute to patients having to wait in hospital longer for transfers, as well as NIAS staff finding it more difficult to respond to all emergency calls. The importance of ambulances and paramedics arriving on time simply cannot be emphasised enough. The longer someone has to wait for assistance in an emergency the greater the risk there is of them coming to serious and lasting harm.
“I hope to soon meet with the Red Cross, their local staff and trade union representatives on this matter. In the meantime I would urge the Department of Health and local Health and Social Care Trusts to consider whether there is anything that they can do, even on a temporary basis, to ensure that this important service is not lost.”