Ambulance Service says sorry to patients for delay

Ambulance Service says sorry to patients for delay

15 November 2023

AMBULANCE response times for the most serious emergency calls are continuing to deteriorate across the district, it has been revealed.

The shocking news has been confirmed by the Down Community Health Committee on the back of a Freedom of Information request, with the Ambulance Service apologising to patients who may have waited longer than they expected for an ambulance to arrive.

Campaigners say it is “deeply disappointing” that response times for so-called category one calls in the Downpatrick, Slieve Croob and Mourne district electoral areas are getting worse when compared to last year.

And they are concerned that a business case for much-needed additional resources is stuck in an “administrative logjam awaiting ministerial approval”.

The Health Committee said the formal response to its Freedom of Information request to the Ambulance Service Trust makes for “yet more depressing reading”.

Committee member Anne Trainor said it was surprising that at a time when the regional and Newry, Mourne and Down Council area ambulance response times have shown a further improvement, Downpatrick, Slieve Croob and the Mournes have all shown a further deterioration.

Mrs Trainor said the bottom line was that response times locally are even worse, in “absolute and relative terms.”

Long serving campaign group member Aidan Harris has pointed to the “peculiarity of the difference in response times”.

He said that so far this year, whilst regional response times have improved to 10 minutes and 40 seconds for category one calls, the response time in Newry and Mourne overall has improved to 15 minutes and 58 seconds.

“The response in the Downpatrick DEA is 18 minutes and 20 seconds, 22 minutes and 19 seconds in the Mournes and 18 minutes and 19 seconds in Slieve Croob,” Mr Harris said.

“These are all deteriorations and are unacceptable. The performance and the trend in the three local DEA’s is just not good enough.”

Health group chairman Eamonn McGrady, said the current political impasse sees a business case for additional resources for the Ambulance Trust stuck in an administrative logjam, awaiting ministerial approval. 

“We have no doubt that that delay in essential investment has serious consequences on a daily basis for local patients,” he said.

“When that investment comes, some of it must be used to address the deplorable service deficit, suffered specially by our local communities.” 

Mr McGrady said local politicians were expected by the local community to deliver “on this crucial issue”.

“If they do not, cannot or will not, then that must be exposed to our increasingly frustrated community that looks enviously at the ongoing and massive investment in health services in other areas,” he continued.

“It is time to address the deficit in service provision for our area.”

A spokesman for the Ambulance Service said it apologised to any patient who may have waited longer for an ambulance response than they would have expected. 

“We are sorry for the delay in providing such a response. NIAS operates a clinical triage system to ensure that the most clinically ill or urgent calls receive the most immediate response,” he continued.

The spokesman explained Category 1 calls are those which are immediately life-threatening and should be responded to within an average of eight minutes, while Category 2 calls are those which are serious, but not life-threatening ,and should be responded to within an average of 18 minutes. 

He said Category 3 calls are those which are urgent and for which an ambulance should be on scene within two hours for 90% of such calls.

The spokesman said pressures the organisation is currently experiencing have resulted in some “serious delays” in responding to some 999 calls and, for that, it is sorry. 

“Regrettably, response times to those patients whose clinical need is less urgent will be longer than might be expected by patients and their carers,” he said.

The spokesman said the organisation will always try and respond to every call as quickly as possible and will continue to prioritise calls which are immediately life threatening and will seek at all times to respond to all calls in the shortest possible time and that an independent, demand/capacity review indicated NIAS requires an uplift of more than 300 operational staff to cope with current and projected demand on the service.

He added: “NIAS is currently working with the Department of Health to progress a business case which recommends a multi-year investment plan to provide all the staff, fleet and accommodation required to sustain delivery and performance.”