Page last updated at 06:26 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 07:26 UK

Anger at ambulance cuts proposal

Ambulance
The plans could see cuts to ambulance services

Frontline ambulance cover in Northern Ireland could be cut by 70,000 hours under new plans.

Rural areas, such as those west of the Bann, are expected to be worst hit under proposals approved by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said he would carefully consider the plans.

The ambulance service said its capacity to respond would actually improve, despite the efficiency savings. But health service unions are angry.

John Kay of Unison said places like Londonderry needed more ambulances, not fewer.

"We are pushing the limits, we are working on the breadline and we have been for years," he said.

"We are having to leave patients behind in certain circumstances because we do not have enough ambulance cover in this city."

I realise that there has been a high level of public concern in relation to efficiency proposals and in particular around emergency cover in rural areas,
Michael McGimpsey
Health Minister

The proposals have come about as a result of the Northern Ireland Executive's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The plans seek to improve paramedic response to the most seriously ill patients while minimising "unnecessary and inappropriate" use of emergency ambulances by providing alternatives to ambulance attendance.

Ambulance cover will now be concentrated in the more densely populated areas of Northern Ireland - the larger towns and cities where multiple ambulances are based.

Under the trust's recommendations, the number of rapid response vehicle hours would be increased to improve paramedic response throughout Northern Ireland.

Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein, deputy chairperson of the assembly's health committee, said she believes the cuts will go ahead.

"We do not want to see cuts in front-line services... it doesn't come more front-line than ambulance services," she said.

Investment

Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Liam McIvor said the emphasis was on getting paramedic care to very ill people as quickly as possible.

"The ambulance service is already getting to more patients, more quickly than ever before throughout Northern Ireland and providing higher levels of pre-hospital care than in the past," he said.

"The modernisation proposals presented in this paper seek to secure and underpin that improvement and provide the basis for further improvement and clinical service development."

The health minister, Mr McGimpsey, said: "I realise that there has been a high level of public concern in relation to efficiency proposals and in particular around emergency cover in rural areas.

"Over the next three years, I will be investing some £30m in our ambulance service, enabling it to modernise its estate, refresh its fleet and invest in the latest equipment.

"This investment will also permit further improvement in ambulance response times and patient care."



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