Edwin Poots announces 'improved' children's ambulance service
Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced the expansion of specialist transport services for sick children.
The expansion of NISTAR (Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval Services) will see it staffed around the clock and supported by a new dedicated ambulance.
Four new intensive care beds for children have also been purchased.
Mr Poots said the expansion would see "significant improvements" in the care of sick children.
Speaking at the launch at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Mr Poots said: "It is very important that we have a system that makes room for compassion, provides continuity and clear communication with families in what will often be very stressful situations.
"This greatly increased service availability will undoubtedly improve the treatment for many critically ill children."
The expansion comes as a result of an analysis carried out by the HSCB (Health and Social Care Board) on how to improve NISTAR.
As well as the new specialist ambulance, a dedicated response car has also been made available to the service.
Dr Mark Terris, consultant paediatric anaesthetist at the Belfast HSCB, said: "The specifically commissioned vehicles available to the service allow the team to work in a safe environment which reduces the risk associated with critical care transfer."
Medical director for the NIAS (Northern Ireland Ambulance Service), Dr David McManus, added: "The new ambulance is specifically designed around the needs of these children."
Dean Sullivan, director of commissioning for the Health and Social Care Board, said it was a significant expansion of specialist transport arrangements for children.
"The plans for the expansion in service were developed by an expert project team with input from parents groups, senior trust clinical staff, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Northern Ireland Critical Care Network," he said.
"In addition to the board's investment in clinical staffing for the transport and retrieval team, the board has also commissioned an additional four Paediatric Intensive Care (ICU) beds in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children increasing the unit from 8 to 12 beds at a cost of over £2m".