Published by BBC NEWS - 11th April 2022

Ambulances

A woman in her 30s who died in Newry, County Down, had been waiting for paramedics from Belfast due to a shortage of crews in the Southern area.

The woman had been out with friends when she collapsed as she walked home.

BBC News NI understands that after dialling 999, her friends were told there would be a considerable wait as there was not an available crew.

The ambulance service said it regretted that levels of cover fell below what was “planned and anticipated”.

A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) spokesman said the Southern division had been particularly affected.

It took paramedics about 45 minutes to travel from Belfast to Newry, a journey of about 38 miles.

But by the time they arrived, the woman had died. It was the early hours of Sunday.

Hospital under pressure

An NIAS spokesman said the planned level of resource in the Southern division on Saturday night was 10 crews.

However, only three crews were available at the start of the shift and this was further depleted by one due to onset of illness.

By 03:00 BST, there were only two crews in the area and they were waiting at Craigavon Area Hospital to offload patients.

The hospital was also under considerable pressure.

Craigavon Area Hospital

Image source, Google Maps

The emergency department in Daisy Hill Hospital is still open.

Sources have told BBC News NI that it was “distressing” for all staff involved on Saturday night, including those in the control room who felt “helpless”.

One staff member said it was one of the most “difficult” shifts they had worked as the woman who died was so young and her friends were distraught waiting such a long time for help.

The NIAS spokesman added: “As NIAS manages the service on a regional basis with the closest available ambulance responding to the next most clinically urgent call, crews from other divisions will have responded to calls in the southern division.

“NIAS also had three A&E support crews and one independent ambulance crew available to complement the emergency crews.

“NIAS would like to apologise to patients and their careers for any delays experienced as a result of reduced cover on Saturday night.”

Catherine Farrell, from the union Unison, said it was an “extremely sad story” and extended her sympathy to the woman’s family.

She said the pressures that staff were under in the health service were “considerable” and were “getting worse day on day”.

“Forty-five minutes is not an unreasonable time to get from Belfast, but for someone that was in need of care at that particular moment, they needed something quicker than that,” she added.

NIAS chief Michael Bloomfield said it was “impossible” to make a direct link with the deaths, but that patients may have been placed at an increased risk.

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