A Crossmaglen councillor whose cousin died while waiting for a delayed ambulance has been told her area suffers from the “worst” response times in Northern Ireland.
A Northern Ireland Ambulance Service boss made the admission as he briefed elected representatives at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) this week.
Classroom assistant Jody Keenan tragically died on April 6, 2022. The 39-year-old had met friends for a night out in Newry before taking ill on her way home.
Her friends phoned 999, but were told there would be a wait for help to arrive as “the only crew available was in Belfast”. The ambulance finally arrived 45 minutes after the call.
During a special council meeting this week, NIAS assistant director Mark Cochrane told councillors “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) area is the worst in Northern Ireland for ambulance response times”.
NIAS targets state that ambulances must aim to respond to category 1 calls, involving life-threatening conditions needing immediate intervention, in 8 minutes on average and respond to 90% in 15 minutes. Statistics show that ambulances in NMDDC area responding to category 1 emergencies on average in 16mins 3sec with 90% within 32 mins 41sec.
In terms of the non-urgent, category 4 calls, the NIAS aims to reach 90% of calls with in 3hrs, though NMDDC’s times were only within 6hrs 22mins.
Responding to the comments, Council deputy chairperson, Sinn Féin’s Aoife Finnegan, said: “I would be doing a disservice to Jody and our family if I didn’t mention how my young cousin was left to die on the streets of Newry.
“The fact that a year on from Jody, that we are told NMDDC is the worst council area for ambulance call outs is a devastating fact that these incidents could happen again. NMDDC being the worst, it brings that really home how our family has been directly affected.
“Jody could have been in the back of an ambulance with a medical team working on her and at least died with some dignity in the in a hospital instead of the streets. Her death has devastated her mother and our entire family, it will never leave us. I want to know, what is the ambulance service doing to improve?”
Mr Cochrane said: “I know this is something that your family will never get over. We know that things could have been better and learning from what has happened is very important.
“Hopefully now we know what happened, we can do better and those aspects that needed to be changed have done so.”
He added: “Regionally over the past six months we have lost almost a quarter of on the road capacity outside Emergency Departments.
“We are also waiting the outcome of our Clinical Response Model business case and if successful will add these additional resources to our stations in the area.
“There is no timeline for the business case to be signed off, but it is my understanding that a NI permanent secretary can approve it.”
A ‘Journey for Jody’ charity (in aid of Rathore school in Newry where Jody previously worked and Shine Hydrocephalus support) walk to Camlough mountain in memory of Jody Keenan will take place on April 10 with a GoFundMe page available for donations.