Staffordshire 'at risk' as 999 crews diverted on 'Mad Friday'
AMBULANCE officials have been accused of leaving Staffordshire at risk by diverting four 999 vehicles to Yorkshire.
The crews were sent to help under-pressure colleagues in the west of the county where sub-zero temperatures led to a surge of calls.
Health workers there said the delays had been made worse by a shift rota system leaving staff shortages.
The transfer happened last Friday – dubbed Mad Friday as it is traditionally the busiest day of the year – when West Midlands Ambulance service also sent five crews from Coventry to Yorkshire.
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The nine ambulances answered an average of just over three calls each during their mission.
NHS watchdogs claim questions remain over whether adequate cover had been put in place in North Staffordshire before such a 'significant dilution' of local services.
The West Midlands trust said the vehicles were expendable as it had 20 per cent more ambulances than needed on duty that day.
But a member of the ambulance sub-committee of Stoke-on-Trent health watchdogs the Local Involvement Network (LINk) said: "This reduction must have left a significant risk in North Staffordshire especially as such a busy day had been forecast."
Ian Syme, below, who also co-ordinates local NHS pressure group Healthwatch, added: "We are not against helping out other areas but this shows how precarious and fragile the urgent care system has become.
"A significant number of emergency ambulances was removed to create a risk and we are not told how that gap would have been filled.
"If demand here had suddenly shot up, it would have taken two hours for them to get back from Yorkshire so thankfully we got away with it."
Yorkshire also drafted in help from the North West and North East ambulance trusts.
West Midland officials said the move was within procedures because the Yorkshire service and a number of hospitals called major incidents to cope with unprecedented demand in icy conditions.
Trust communications offer Chris Kowalik said: "The principle of assisting another ambulance service is to preserve life.
"In February, Stoke-on-Trent experienced a very similar situation and assistance was brought in from other parts of the West Midlands.
"Last week, we had upwards of 20 percent more ambulances at peak times than we would normally have had. We were therefore in a position to assist.
"It is disappointing we are being criticised for helping another trust at a time when patients' lives were clearly at risk."
But Roger Thayne, former head of Staffordshire ambulance service before its merger into the West Midlands trust, said: "Taking four crews from North Staffordshire is equivalent to removing a quarter of the cover – a very dangerous action."
And Newcastle mayor David Becket, of the town's health scrutiny committee added: "We need to know why Yorkshire could not cope and whether that was linked to the staff rota system."