The whole of Preston was left with just one local paramedic to cover a busy Saturday night after ambulance staff rang in sick, it has been claimed.
The city had to call for help from crews in surrounding towns and villages last weekend to deal with at least two dozen life-threatening emergencies – leaving those stations short of cover too.
“I feel genuinely worried that someone will die as a result of this understaffing,” an ambulance whistleblower told the Evening Post.
“And this is not an isolated incident.”
A union spokesman commented: “It is incredible that a city with a population of 140,000 was left with no ambulance on a Saturday night – the busiest night of the week.
“We hear management saying that they managed to maintain target response times – but at what cost?
“The surrounding towns and rural villages were stripped of their ambulances in order to make sure that Preston city centre had emergency cover.”
The allegations come just days after a road crash casualty and two fire victims were all taken to hospital in fire engines because ambulances failed to answer 999 calls in the city.
In addition relatives of an 80-year-old woman, trapped under paving slabs in Penwortham, had to take her by car to A&E where it was found she had a broken leg and ankle. And a police patrol ferried another woman to hospital after she fell in Clitheroe and an ambulance didn’t show.
North West Ambulance has launched investigations into those incidents, but has hit back angrily at the latest allegations, saying the service was adequately staffed in Preston last Saturday night for all the emergencies it was called upon to deal with.
“We hit our performance target on what was a very busy night,” said a spokesman. “Our contingency plans worked well, so I don’t understand why we are being condemned.”
The whistleblower – who signed themselves ‘a worried paramedic’ – flagged up the “serious situation” after Preston was left with just one operational rapid response car on the busiest night of the week.
The city also has three ambulances on call as well on a normal Saturday night, but those crews were reported to be off sick.
The source said: “There was just one rapid response vehicle covering the entire city. A population of over 100,000 was covered by a single responding paramedic driving an ambulance car.
“It meant that a life-threatening emergency would have to rely on ambulances travelling from other parts of the area – assuming those vehicles were not allocated to emergencies in their own areas.
“But this is not a result of short-term sickness, this is a result of poor management, of allocating leave and not covering these core shifts. The local management team would have been aware of this for a number of days and we were still left with the situation that the city of Preston had no ambulances manned.”
The North West Ambulance Service spokesman said it was normal practice to bring in crews from other stations when there was a shortage of cover. Last Saturday ambulances had come from the surrounding area and the contingency plan had “worked extremely well.”
“If anything, the fact that we handled that weekend in Preston should be seen as a positive, not a negative.
“Preston was not left without cover that night. But it seems we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”