For everyone connected with the atrocity on 22nd May 2017, the last five years have already produced painful reminders of that night’s events. And although I’m well aware this day has been a long time coming for many – I know the feelings of pain, loss, fear and anger do not go away. My thoughts and sympathies are with you all, particularly with the bereaved families and the injured. We will never forget the profound impact of the attack on you – every member of the ambulance service, and the communities we serve.
I hope that today’s report can give some answers. However, I understand that the answers may not be what everyone was looking for. I accept the findings, and I thank Sir John Saunders and his team for their diligence.
All those participating in the emergency response that night did so, trying to do their best and save lives, and repeatedly did just that. Brave actions, which helped many people – staying with them in their time of need and then administering ongoing care. Not just those from the ambulance service but, of course, workers from other emergency services, NHS and members of the public. To all of you, you should be incredibly proud of your efforts. Your interventions will not be forgotten by the people who received them.
Tragically, as we are all aware, 22 people didn’t survive that night, and many others were seriously injured. When people do lose their lives, we understand that it is how our performance will ultimately be judged, and this, quite rightly, is the case today.
The number of responders treating people in the City Room has been a great concern to many and is frequently mentioned in the report. We accept that more of our staff should have been deployed into the City Room to help triage patients and manage their evacuation.
What also produces deep regret – is that our ability to work together as blue light partners fell well short of the standards, we all expected. The principles of multi-agency working are incredibly important to the way we deal with major incidents. It should never have broken down so quickly and so drastically.
We take our share of the responsibility for that. We failed to communicate situational awareness reports, we failed to share our major incident declarations, and we failed to establish adequate communication between our control rooms and each other.
Also, what was laid bare during the inquiry is how we failed to learn from previous joint training exercises. To say we have now acted, I admit, seems too little too late; nonetheless, it’s important we do. Since the bombing, we have taken a series of important steps to ensure we capture learning and initiate change, improve communications between emergency control rooms and enhance our staff’s awareness of multi-agency capabilities within major incidents.
We have updated our major incident plans and introduced new specific policies for the arena and shared these with its operator and our blue light partners. What’s more, to prepare our commanders more effectively, we have enhanced their training and made it more rigorous and sustained, so their skills are maintained and frequently refreshed.
Of course, there is much more still to digest from the report and the Chair’s recommendations. I gladly take on the responsibility to make sure progress is made on them. And in my other role as Chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, I will endorse changes required of our national partners to improve ambulance responses all over the country.
I am confident that if something like this happens again – the response will have more effective preparation, management and coordination between the blue light partners here today. I also believe that everyone at NWAS would strive to respond with professionalism, compassion, and the desire to help.
On occasions like this, the word sorry has the risk of sounding hollow. Nevertheless, I want to make it clear that while our actions were well-intentioned, we apologise wholeheartedly for our failures. They weigh heavily on us individually and as an organisation.
Lastly, I want to use this opportunity to invite the families of those who have lost loved ones, should they wish, to meet with us and ask any questions they have.