There will be no ambulance cover for the south Armagh or Newry regions tonight (Friday).
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) confirmed that due to staffing issues, providing cover in the Newry and Kilkeel ambulance stations has “provided us with a challenge tonight”.
NIAS say the main reason for the reduced cover is that they continue to have over 10% of their operational staff unavailable for work as they follow public health advice in relation to Covid-19.
They have therefore been reliant on staff working additional overtime for several months now, according to an NIAS spokesperson.
“This level of overtime is not sustainable and it means on occasions we are unable to provide the planned level of cover in some areas,” they added.
NIAS has implemented their standard contingency plans to mitigate against reduced levels of cover.
These include the provision of additional crews from other stations within the division, extended Rapid Response Paramedic hours, increased A&E support vehicles provided by NIAS non-emergency crews and increased use of Voluntary and Private Ambulance Services (VAS/PAS).
The VAS/PAS are used by ambulance control to deal with lower acuity calls in order to keep our Emergency Crews free for more serious, life threatening calls.
Emergency Ambulance Control manages available resources on a regional basis to ensure the nearest available and appropriate resource is despatched to a call in the most timely manner.
Area Manager, Mark Cochrane, further explained: “It is a source of regret to me whenever ambulance cover is
depleted due to lack of available resources and the potential impact this may have on the community we serve.
“Demand for NIAS services has increased significantly over recent years without a corresponding increase in ambulance resources.
“We are working to address the issue and fill existing vacancies with ongoing regional recruitments and training.
“I would like to express my gratitude to those staff, on the frontline and in ambulance control, who continue to work tirelessly to ensure that an ambulance response is provided to those who have an immediate and life-threatening need.”
Councillor Gavin Malone says local residents “deserve better”.
“I am positive the residents of our district would not appreciate the response I have received,” he said.
“In the 21st century, surely the NI Ambulance Service have the resources to dedicate ambulance services to the people who live and work in our area.
“We deserve better and I will be demanding answers to this serious matter.”
He added: “I congratulate our voluntary ambulance services for covering our area and for their hard work and assistance.
“I also want to make it clear this is not an attack on the brilliant ambulance crews who provide an excellent service and put their lives at risk during the Covid 19 pandemic.
“This is an attack on senior management from the NI Ambulance Service who should be ensuring our district has ambulance cover every night of the year.”