Members of the St John Ambulance, Banbridge team (from left) are David McCausland PTA, Orla Rice PTA, Jenna O'Hare ETA, Pamela Johnston ETA and Adrian McGrath Paramedic and SJA Southern District Clinical Lead
THE Banbridge Unit of St John Ambulance is surging in its efforts to assist on the frontline against Covid-19.
Already the local crew has carried out extensive preparations as they get ready to lift the baton and stand shoulder to shoulder with their NHS and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service colleagues.
However, the Scarva Road-based branch is appealing for extra Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as Northern Ireland prepares for the peak of the virus to hit.
Ballyward native, Adam Black is a paramedic in England and first aid trainer for St John Ambulance’s Banbridge branch over the last 10 years.
He told The Outlook the local crew has spent the last few weeks helping the NHS get hospitals, departments, areas, wards and beds emptied of those patients who can be discharged and taken home.
Through this valuable work the Banbridge crew is playing a vital role in the preparation of what is expected and in preparation for the escalation of Covid-19 patients.
Adam said efforts the local crew is taking will help with the surge, but there is a shortage of PPE for the hard-working volunteers.
He said: “Local businesses and members of the public have been so kind and donated aprons to us and other bits and pieces.
“However, we do have a real shortage of FFP3 1863 masks and surgical masks for our crew and these would have the most impact to protect our volunteers.
“Although we have had a few donations of them, while we are going through a pandemic you cannot have enough!
“We do have enough to do us right now, but we don’t know how long this will go on for and how long our stocks will last for.”
The Banbridge crew is made up of trained volunteer ambulance attendants as well as doctors, paramedics and nurses and part of its role at the minute is transferring Covid-19 positive patients between hospitals.
Volunteers who have signed up have also been able to take time away from their usual work and volunteer in emergency ambulances fighting on the frontline against Covid-19.
The organisation in Northern Ireland consists of around 1200 volunteers, from first aiders to expert ambulance crews.
Adam says of these 1200, around 450 volunteers are expertly trained emergency ambulance clinicians.
Meanwhile, further activity on the frontline dealing with Covid-19 suspected and confirmed patients is being carefully monitored and the ambulance unit is preparing for this inevitability.
Adam said preparations with the Banbridge crew are well underway, adding: “We will be dealing with more serious events down the line and everything is sitting ready to assist with the peak when it happens.
“When this does we will be able to assist with both more emergency and frontline cases.
“We have between 30 and 40 crew members in Banbridge and I am still training volunteers online at the minute and, although we are not recruiting at the minute, our focus will be getting people trained up and ready for the surge when it hits.”
By carrying out this process, Adam will get 'more boots on the ground' and volunteers deployed in emergency ambulances to support and promote existing efforts on the frontline.
In the last few weeks training has also got underway in relation to the correct handling and how to properly wear PPE.
Adam continued: “Wearing equipment like this is something that we have not had to use before and so it is important we get it right.
“We have also been going through the process of properly disinfecting ambulances between transporting patients and training members up to emergency level.
“These are volunteers who are willing to put themselves on the frontline and help which is amazing.
“Thank you to everyone who has donated to us for more PPE equipment through our JustGiving page and if you want to hand over protective equipment you can do so to Jenna, who is our Banbridge Unit Event Lead.”
Jenna can be contacted on 077 5337 5468 and the JustGiving page for the nation's leading health and first aid charity is www.justgiving.com/stjohnambulance-ni and donate.
Banbridge Unit Manager Christine McCormick also told The Outlook: “I have been humbled by the selflessness of the Unit members who have given of their precious time to support the community in this time of crisis. Thank you very much.”
Meanwhile, the Regional Manager for St John Ambulance Northern Ireland, William McCormick said the organisation is ready to “go that extra mile” when the peak hits.
He said: “As an organisation and as one family of St John - we will tackle this global pandemic together, just like our ancestors did at the humble beginning of this fabulous organisation that we know today!
“In recent weeks we have been working extremely closely with our counterparts in the NHS and the NIAS.
“Our current response to the pandemic is putting the hospitals and Health Trusts in a very positive position as we clear bed space and help get wards and departments ready for the expected escalation of Covid-19 patients.”