25% of NI Ambulance Service unavailable to function

A quarter of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service is off work, with even the sickest patients having long wait times.

Around 221 employees are laid off due to COVID-19, another 155 out of 1,496 employees are laid off due to non-Covid reasons.

NIAS chief executive Michael Bloomfield said that while priority is given to the sickest patients, as waiting times become longer, there have been instances where they have had to advise callers, where possible, to make their way to the hospital. Create.

Thousands of healthcare workers in Northern Ireland are absent from work due to COVID-19.


Ambulance at the entrance to the emergency department with several vehicles carrying patients waiting to be admitted to Antrim Area Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Omicron variant has reported the highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young estimated that the peak of the wave is yet to come, expected to occur between early January to mid-January.

Data provided by health trusts and the NIAS to the PA news agency on Wednesday indicated that about 4,000 workers were absent because of the virus.

At the Belfast Health Trust, on Tuesday, about 1,220 employees were recorded as absent due to COVID-19.

Of the 21,379 employees, another 1,735 were absent for non-Covid reasons, making the proportion absent at 14%.

On Wednesday, Southern Health Trust had 1,069 employees absent due to COVID-19, as well as 331 out of 12,575 employees absent due to non-Covid reasons, taking the ratio to 11%.

The South Eastern Trust had 802 employees absent due to COVID-19 on the same day, and 526 out of 11,353 employees were absent for non-Covid reasons, making the proportion absent at 12%.


Infection control nurse Colin Clark looks out of a COVID-19 recovery ward at Craigavon ​​Area Hospital in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Wednesday, 489 were absent due to Kovid-19 in the Northern Health Trust.

Of the 12,170 workforce, 784 were absent for non-Covid reasons, making the proportion absent at 10%.

Mr. Bloomfield said absences are expected to increase further even after the peak of the omicron wave.

“Services in the health and social care system are already under significant pressure and are unfortunately likely to worsen in the coming weeks if the number of workers unavailable for work increases as it is expected to do so as we continue to grow in this current boom. has reached its peak. , “He said.

“From an ambulance service standpoint this means that as always we continue to try to focus the resources we have available on the sickest patients, but we no longer respond to those most medically urgent calls. Looking at the times which are taking too much time now and in fact there are some patients who whenever they call we have to tell them that it is very unlikely that we will get them in an ambulance any time soon And if they are able to go to the hospital with a family member, they should do that.”

He said in healthcare he was aware of the particular challenges in home care, mental health services and emergency departments, which he described as “extremely busy”.

“As workers are at the heart of providing every single element of health and social care services, as we see this affect more workers, sadly, this will impact every part of hospital and community services, ” They said.

Mr Bloomfield said several NIAS contingency plans are being used on a daily basis, such as redeployment of staff to frontline services, reductions in training and other tasks, including assistance from other emergency services.

He said the situation is “extremely difficult for the employees”.

“It is no longer enough to say that employees are terminated, people have been saying for a long time, but this is the case, they are repeatedly asked if there is a new boom, each time it seems more difficult,” she said. spoke.

“Currently with the high number of employees affected by this, there is an even bigger responsibility on the employees who are on the job to work extra shifts etc.

“They are tired, they are upset that they are not able to provide the level of care they need for patients and they know that patients need it, and they are finding it very difficult and while I know I can trust I can but he keeps going and keeps doing his best, I don’t know how long we can expect him to continue to do that.”