NWAS asks for army help after soaring 999 calls and staff absence

North West Ambulance Service bosses have asked the army for help amid a surge in 999 calls and soaring staff absence due to sickness or self-isolation.

If the application is granted then it would be the first time ever – with the exception of strike action – that NWAS would have enlisted military assistance in this way to help Lancashire, Cheshire and other local regions.

The MEN understands that up to 120 soldiers could be deployed to aid the trust, dependent on a nod from the Government. This would also include supplying man power to drive ambulances.

Emergency calls continue to flood in at volumes up to 20 per cent higher than in ‘normal’ times, meaning there are surges of up to 4,800 a day instead of the usual 4,000.

If it were not for staff absence – the ‘worst ever’ according to paramedics on the ground – then the surge in call-outs might have been manageable.

Jeff Gorman, NWAS Unison branch secretary, told the MEN: “The Trust is now making preparations to bring in the military to assist.

“They have made the request but it has not yet been approved. If we do get refused we will be turning to the fire brigade.

“We’ve never done anything like this before but we did expect it to be honest.”

LancsLive reported earlier this month how around 1,000 members of the 6,000-strong NWAS workforce were off sick or self-isolating. Front line staff, meanwhile, were depleted by 12pc.

On Thursday evening one paramedic told the M.E.N: “We are all just very tired. Everyone has been working hard. We always put the patients first and carry on.

“But this is definitely the hardest I’ve ever found it and I’ve been doing it an extremely long time.”

NWAS says the current situation is still not as severe as declaring a major incident, a measure NWAS took in November after reports of patients being stuck in corridors for hours, ambulances queuing outside hospitals and a surge in callouts.

But Mr Gorman added: “Although we are no longer near the level in calls when we had to declare a major incident, we have still got patients waiting a long time for an ambulance.

“This is why we need extra capacity.

“We are one of the last ambulance trusts in the country to do it. Many other trusts in the country are using police, fire and military to drive ambulances.”

Among trusts to have already called on the army for help is the South East Coast Ambulance Service, which covers Kent.

On Wednesday it was confirmed that 36 members of the Royal Logistic Corps have been assigned to the service to drive vehicles.

South Central Ambulance Service, meanwhile, has confirmed it has warned the military and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service it may need help.

The union has been working with NWAS bosses to mine all internal resources before seeking outside help.

In November, the service revealed plans to recruit more than 120 call handlers and add 100 vehicles to its fleet to cope with the Covid winter.

Since then, all clinically trained staff have been switched ‘to the responding front line’ and the trust has increased its use of private providers.

There’s also been a request for help from paramedics in other parts of the country, as well as a plan to appeal to the workforce to volunteer for more overtime.

NWAS has been approached by the MEN for a comment.

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Lancs Live – Cumbria