Ambulance crisis 'could get worse' warns union

An ambulance union official has warned this week’s sudden surge in 999 calls, which sparked a “major incident” across the North West, could signal a long, hard winter ahead for the service.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 7:00 am
Ambulance services were overwhelmed for a time this week.

Neil Cosgrove, currently one of scores of paramedics off sick due to the pandemic, predicted pressure on the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) could reach breaking point as Covid adds thousands more call-outs to an already over-stretched agency.

“Potentially it will get worse,” said the branch secretary for the union Unite. “For the service to be put into a major incident on this scale is something that very, very rarely happens.

"We get isolated incidents, but for an ambulance service to declare one across their whole footprint is saying something serious is going on here and something needs to be done.”

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Paramedics are delivering more and more Covid patients to A&E units like Preston.

NWAS called a major incident at around 6:25pm on Monday due to an exceptionally high volume of 999 calls across the region. The service lifted the alert almost three hours later as the situation began to ease.

Figures released later showed there had been 2,200 emergency calls between noon and 8pm - a 36 per cent increase on the same period last Monday.

An official from another ambulance staff union Unison admitted: “I’ve been here for 30 years and I’ve never known anything like this.”

NWAS immediately launched an investigation into what caused the unprecedented spike in calls, revealing that Covid has accounted for only 15 per cent of the increase.

The ambulance service was still reviewing the situation yesterday and had so far been unable to pinpoint the cause.

Neil Cosgrove said he believed Covid was “the crux” of the problem. “We have gradually seen an increase in the number of calls coming in which have been Covid-related. The number of patients ending up in hospital has had a massive impact on the service.

“We are now seeing a number of our staff going off with Covid symptoms.

“As a result we are seeing a reduction in our resources to meet this massive increase in demand.

"The staff out there are giving 150 per cent and it is a worrying time coming into winter.”

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