All hands on deck as ambulance chiefs move to highest alert level as pandemic leaves paramedics under 'extreme pressure'

Regional ambulance chiefs moved to the highest alert level for the first time during the pandemic following a surge in calls, pressure on hospitals, and absent workers.

The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), which covers the whole region, today warned it was facing "extremely high levels of activity" at a time when hospitals are threatened with being overwhelmed by Covid patients.

An unspecified number of paramedics and other staff are also "isolating or shielding", leaving resources stretched now more than ever since last March.

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NWAS has been operating at level two (moderate state) or three (severe) of the Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP) since the coronavirus first arrived on our shores.

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) paramedics outside Blackpool Victoria Hospital during the Covid pandemic, in June 2020 (Picture: JPIMedia)

But it has now shifted to level four (extreme pressure), with operations boss Ged Blezard saying: "“In response to this rise, NWAS is maximising its resources by putting all clinically trained staff on the responding frontline, increasing our use of private providers, and working with our healthcare partners to safely help us guide non urgent cases to other healthcare services.

“REAP levels can change throughout the day and the trust will be carefully monitoring the effects of the escalation which is hoped will help manage the increase in demand.

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“The public can help us by only calling 999 in serious or life-threatening emergencies, checking their symptoms on 111 online and acting within the Government Covid guidelines by only travelling when necessary, shopping only for essential items, and staying home.”

The REAP plan is a set of pre-agreed actions to manage surging demand by increasing capacity.

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It is always in operation, normally at level one, but higher levels are triggered as demand rises.

It was not unheard of for ambulance services to move to level four before the pandemic as paramedics struggled to cope with winter pressures.

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At level four, NWAS will put all hands on deck - cancelling training courses and meetings - and could declare a 'critical incident'.

While the service said it could not say how many of its staff are shielding or isolating, it did clarify that "increasing" its "use of private providers" means bringing in freelance paramedics, such as those who man music festivals and other large public events, to attend 999 calls, though a spokesman said they would not be sent to serious incidents.

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