Page last updated at 18:35 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 19:35 UK

Concerns grows over ambulance cover

By Marie Louise Connelly
BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent

Ambulance on emergency calls

There are concerns that plans to cut costs by 8.3m over three years will affect ambulance cover

It is not unusual to see a Rapid Response Vehicle and an ambulance accompanying each other to the scene of an emergency.

But this may become a thing of the past. Due to cuts in the health service the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service must save up to £8.3m over the next three years.

In rural areas there is growing concern that fewer ambulances and more vehicles might impact on patient care.

So what is the difference? Well, an ambulance has two crew on board and can bring a patient to hospital while an RRV vehicle has one trained paramedic who stays at the scene.

Figures obtained by the BBC show between 2007 and 2008 in 91% of cases where an RRV was dispatched it was unable to deal with the incident alone and an ambulance was also required.

Last year, that figure had reduced to 83% of cases.

With plans to reduce frontline cover by 70,000 hours, some people are asking if deploying more one-man vehicles is just a cost-cutting exercise.

Over the next three years the service must save over £8m. One proposal is to cut frontline cover, ie paramedics, by almost 70,000 hours.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said efficiencies would not be achieved at the expense of patient services.

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