North Down Ulster Unionist MLA, Alan Chambers, is seeking to facilitate a meeting between the CEO of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the family of a 12 year old girl who had to wait more than two hours for a response to a 999 call in Groomsport.
Mr Chambers said:
“On Friday night the parents of a 12-year-old girl injured in a cycling accident were told, after calling 999, that they would have to wait for up to three hours for an ambulance. The child had sustained suspected spinal injuries and the parents were told by the call handler not to move the casualty in any circumstances.
“The accident occurred on the recreational Holme Field in Groomsport coming up to 6.30pm.
“At around 8.25pm I became aware of this situation when the distressed Mum came into my shop to purchase liquid pain killer medicine. At this point her child had been lying prone on the grass for almost two hours.
“I rang ambulance control to ascertain what the position was. I was put on hold for a number of minutes and was then spoken to by a gentleman I assumed was a supervisor. I was told that the child had been classified as an amber call. He explained that he had just come on duty at 7.30pm for a twelve-hour shift. Fifteen members of staff had not turned in for work and instead of the availability of 18 vehicles he was operating with 11. He told me that he had asked two off-duty crew members to go to Newtownards depot and take a vehicle to Groomsport. He assured me that it would be with the child within 20 minutes. This promise was met and the crew involved were very professional and reassuring.
“On Saturday morning I heard radio news refer to the case. They stated that the Ambulance Service had issued an apology for the delay to the family. They also stated that they had a full complement of cover in the area but that vehicles were attending to other calls.
“That statement is completely contradictory to what I was told on Friday evening by someone standing in the control room. I would tend to put more weight on that information relayed directly from the coal face than a sanitised press statement the following morning. The apology and this information would have been cold comfort to the young girl and her parents.
“If they had a full complement of vehicles at their disposal did everyone requiring an ambulance with an amber classification have to wait over two hours in pain and distress? I understood that the Service have at their disposal a fleet of first response vehicles crewed by paramedics that can assess a patient and administer pain relief. Why was no first responder dispatched?
“This is unfortunately not an isolated case and I have had occasion to ask questions about unacceptable response times over recent years.
“This is in no way a criticism of the staff who face daunting lifesaving situations on a daily basis and who respond to hundreds of call each week in a timely fashion. They also operate in dangerous circumstances with attacks on ambulance crews becoming all too common. We all have cause to be grateful for their dedication and skill.
“The reasons for exceptional delays must be tackled and circumstances for them shared with the public. The next delay might result in a fatality that could have been avoided.
“I am pleased that the young girl is home with her family and making a good recovery from her ordeal. The family have asked me to facilitate a meeting with the CEO of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.”