Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lives Are at Stake in 999 Meal Talks - MP; Ambulance Dispute 'Unlikely to Be Resolved'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lives Are at Stake in 999 Meal Talks - MP; Ambulance Dispute 'Unlikely to Be Resolved'

Article excerpt

Byline: By Neil McKay

A DISPUTE over paramedics' meal breaks is unlikely to be resolved when management and union representatives meet next week, ambulance bosses admitted yesterday.

But the admission led to an MP calling for the North-East Ambulance Service (NEAS) and health workers' union Unison to solve the dispute "sooner rather than later to avoid loss of life".

The tragic case of 13-year-old Ben Stirland,

who was choking to death on a pen top at home while an ambulance crew remained oblivious to the emergency taking place just three miles away, led to fresh demands to have the issue resolved.

NEAS admitted it did not call on a crew from Consett, County Durham, to attend Ben's home in Consett Road, Castleside, on January 9 this year because the Consett crew "was on their meal break".

Ben, who was instead attended to by an emergency paramedic who took more than 11 minutes to reach him, and by a two-man crew from Stanley, 10 miles away, who took 15 minutes, died without regaining consciousness in hospital two days later.

Medical experts have stressed that, had the Consett crew been called, it was almost certain they would have been unable to save Ben, but the failure to reach him within the eight minute target time for a life-threatening emergency has again highlighted the folly of failing to notify the nearest ambulance crew of an emergency.

Next Tuesday NEAS management and Unison representatives are due to stage a meeting at NEAS headquarters in Newcastle, where the issue of meal breaks will be on the agenda.

But yesterday, an NEAS spokeswoman said it was "unlikely" a resolution would be achieved.

Instead, she said bosses were awaiting the outcome of national discussions. NEAS chief executive Simon Featherstone added: "We have worked with colleagues nationally to instigate the establishment of a partnership forum. …

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