Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Crossmaglen-based RRV used just once in two years

The Crossmaglen-based emergency services’ Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) has been deployed just once since being set up more than two years ago, The Examiner has learned.

Operated by the NI Ambulance Service (NIAS), the RRV is manned by a paramedic and is designed to attend emergency call-outs ahead of the arrival of an ambulance.

A protracted campaign calling for appropriate ambulance cover in south Armagh – given that many of its rural communities are outside the recommended response times – led to the initiation of the service, based in Crossmaglen fire station, in February 2013.

However, the SDLP’s Justin McNulty has claimed the local unit has been deployed just once in this time and instead RRVs from Newry, Armagh and Kilkeel have attended emergency call-outs in south Armagh.

Calling for an urgent investigation into the issue, Mr McNulty described the news as “a shocking revelation”.

“Let me be abundantly clear, this service is necessary and needed in south Armagh. There have been no shortage of emergency calls, however instead of basing a vehicle in south Armagh and dispatching it from there, I understand that the Ambulance Service has been dispatching their rapid response vehicles from Newry, Armagh and Kilkeel to cover south Armagh,” Mr McNulty claimed.

Pointing out that rural south Armagh is “a vast area” where ambulances can take anything up to 30 minutes to reach an emergency call, he says a base “in the heart of south Armagh is imperative” and must be fully staffed and utilized.

“I appreciate that RRVs are not the only solution,” he says.   “There are some types of calls where it is not suitable to dispatch an RRV – for example if medication needs administered or the patient is female, then two paramedics must be present – however I firmly believe they play a vital role in our health service.  In the first instance, we need to have the [RRV] base in south Armagh properly utilised and staffed.

“I want to see the Ambulance Service engage with local representatives and front line health service staff at all levels and provide the resources required to have rural south Armagh properly and adequately serviced by both the rapid response vehicles and ambulances.

“Ambulance staff are working under extreme pressure, and it’s not until you need to call on their service that you really appreciate the work they do.  We need to see the extremely important work they do recognised by both the Health Minister and the senior management team within the Ambulance Service.”

His party’s Westminster candidate for Newry/Armagh, Mr McNulty revealed that he had spoken to a number of ambulance drivers about their concerns over developments within the service and says he had pledged his support as they seek to improve their working conditions.

A spokesperson for Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said it was unable to provide a full response to Mr McNulty’s claims ahead of our publishing deadline.