Local political representatives have expressed their concerns following a weekend where NI Ambulance Service had coverage difficulties in Newry and surrounds.

NI Ambulance Service describing providing emergency coverage in Newry and Kilkeel stations on Friday night as "a challenge"

A NIAS spokesperson regarding Friday night said "Providing cover in the Newry and Kilkeel ambulance stations has provided us with a challenge tonight. We have assessed the level of available cover across the Southern Division and providing cover in the Newry and Kilkeel stations is presenting a challenge tonight."

MP Mickey Brady is meeting the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service to discuss the issue of ambulance cover in the area and said the situation was deeply concerning.

A spokesperson for NIAS said  "The main reason for the reduced cover is that we continue to have over 10% of our operational staff unavailable for work as they follow public health advice in relation to Covid-19. We have therefore been reliant on staff working additional overtime for several months now. 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.

MLA Justin McNulty explained that ambulance cover for a large proportion of the Southern Trust would have had to be provided by just one base in Banbridge over the weekend.

“Ambulances from the Banbridge base will have had to cover from Crossmaglen to Downpatrick on two weekend nights that we all know are the busiest nights for the emergency services. And, in the context of this coinciding with a reopening of pubs it is alarming. Added to this is the fact that the Emergency Department is temporarily closed in Daisy Hill so all patients seeking emergency treatment are now directed to Craigavon Area Hospital.” said Mr McNulty who has written to the Trust’s Chief Executive seeking an explanation.

NIAS say they implemented their standard contingency plans at the weekend with 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). 

NIAS 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.”

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