Dickson pleads for better rural emergency services after death of young girl

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson has called on the Health Minister to take urgent action to improve medical care throughout rural communities, after the death of Maggie Black, a schoolgirl from Glenarm.

Five-year-old Maggie died last month after becoming unwell from stomach pains at her home. As her breathing became difficult, the family contacted 999, but an ambulance would not arrive until 70 minutes later. Maggie’s parents contacted their family member, a local firefighter, for help. A crew arrived in 10 minutes, but unfortunately, her condition deteriorated.

“The current, unimaginable pressure on our health service is a terrifying reality for many people living in rural locations. For others, it is the difference between life and death,” said Mr Dickson.

“I have asked my colleagues to support ‘Maggie’s Call’ to ensure the Fire and Rescue Service is dispatched in rural areas in life-threatening situations. While the outcome for Maggie was entirely heart-breaking for her family, they know having the fire team as first responders with life-saving equipment, she was given the best support available.

“Without systematic and planned change, emergency services already stretched thin will be forced into crisis. There are two choices – the system can either resist change and slowly deteriorate or embrace change and create a sustainable service, equipped to provide people with proper care, particularly in rural settings.

“Work must be carried out to improve medical care in our rural communities. The Department must now build on the promising co-responder pilot scheme, whereby the fire service was dispatched to suspected cardiac emergency calls in the local catchment area of fire stations, in addition to the standard emergency ambulance response.

“More than this, up-skilling is fundamental in creating an all-encompassing emergency service capable of responding, not just to today’s challenges, but the challenges we will face in the future.

“Investment in lifelong training for all staff will transform the learning experience of our vital services, ensuring we continue to have the best people trained to the highest standard to be on hand when our communities are most in need.

“I will continue to press the Health Minister to take action, and I will be presenting a public petition to the Assembly on behalf of the family, in February.”