The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust (NIAS) has worked in partnership with technology provider Northgate Public Services (NPS) and BT to safeguard frontline control room staff fielding emergency calls during the coronavirus pandemic.

Control room teams are a key part of the emergency services’ response to the crisis and it is essential to ensure everything possible is done to keep these key workers safe, enabling them to carry out their roles while adhering to social distancing rules.

The ambulance service has up to 35 control room staff working at any time and space constraints meant its existing control room at Knockbracken Healthcare Park in south Belfast was not big enough to enable social distancing.

Demonstrating its commitment to protecting its staff and continuing to serve the public, the Trust called on control room communications technology supplier NPS as well as BT to facilitate the development of a second control room in a new building on the same site, enabling the team to be split with no more than 20 staff working safely in each room.

NPS and BT immediately responded to the challenge, fast-tracking the project to ensure communications technology, which is critical to control room operations, was installed, tested and launched in the new control room in just 13 days – an unprecedented response time for a project of this nature.

Robert Sowney, Interim Director of Operations for NIAS, said: “I would like to take the opportunity to commend NIAS staff as well as staff of NPS and BT for pulling out all the stops to deliver on what was a very challenging project in an unbelievably tight timescale.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff was paramount and having NPS and BT staff step up to the challenge and collaborate with ourselves to deliver on this project was hugely appreciated.

“I would pay a special tribute to NPS staff who wouldn’t necessarily be seen as frontline staff but were very much essential to protecting and supporting frontline staff to continue to deliver vital ambulance services to the Northern Ireland public.

“The input of BT was equally crucial in the delivery of this project. As an emergency service, we have a long-standing relationship with BT which has been built on trust and collaborative practices and we were delighted, but not surprised, that, once again, they were able to deliver in the tightest of timescales.”

Ian Blackhurst, Executive Director, Public Service Solutions, at NPS, said: “The support provided for the rapid establishment of a second control room for Northern Ireland Ambulance Service reflects our commitment to working with vital agencies to serve the public as well as safeguarding the control room teams who are the hidden heroes of the emergency services.

“We were more than happy to support the trust in maintaining an excellent service to the public during these incredibly challenging times while also providing protection and reassurance to the control room team.

“Creating a second control room to protect employees was the best option for the trust while ensuring no reduction in service provision or quality.

“The project illustrated how we can pull out all the stops to support emergency services organisations that play such a critical role in serving the public, now more than ever.”

Paul Murnaghan, Regional Director for BT’s Enterprise division in Northern Ireland, said: “BT is delighted that we could help to facilitate the fast development of this urgent second control room to ensure that the maximum number of NIAS essential staff can continue to carry out the vital work needed to support local people and save lives during this very uncertain time.

“The work of the NIAS is crucial during the pandemic that we all face and at BT, as the leading communications provider in Northern Ireland, we are proud to provide our continued support to both public and private sector businesses to keep them connected to ensure that they can carry out often vital jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible.”