PARAMEDICS fighting to save a nine-year-old road accident victim were told rigid rest-break regulations meant the closest crew could not be called upon for back-up.

Lifesavers at a crash scene in Upton were told they would have to wait for a crew nearly 20 minutes away because paramedics in Poole still had a few minutes left on their break.

Ambulance staff treating little Bethany Dibbs then called Poole ambulance station directly. A second crew abandoned their break and raced to Sandy Lane, arriving just five minutes after their colleagues.

The incident has drawn criticism from paramedics to politicians of a system drawn up by NHS managers and agreed by union bosses.

A paramedic, who asked not be named, said: “It’s the way things are going. Things are happening just down the road and they are not sending the nearest crew.

“There is not one member of the ambulance service who would not go, but we have to be given two 30-minute meal breaks and we can’t be interrupted. It’s just a joke.”

But the South Western Ambulance Service Trust is standing by its decision. A spokesperson said the trust took its statutory health and safety duties for all staff very seriously.

“In line with national guidelines negotiated and agreed by Unison, which must be adhered to by all ambulance trusts nationally under the Agenda for Change scheme, it is important that all staff have dedicated 30 minute rest breaks, which cannot be interrupted.

“Absolutely no mistake was made in this case and regardless of whether or not a crew was on a rest-break, the trust is confident that the first crew on scene had adequate clinical skills to treat the patient and convey them quickly and safely to Poole General Hospital.”

Poole MP, Robert Syms, a member of the House of Commons select committee on health, slammed the system governing paramedics’ rest breaks for failing to use valuable people and vehicles to maximum effect.

“I don’t think it's beyond the wit of man for a crew that finishes their lunch break early to catch up a bit later. The nature of emergency work is that it's 90 per cent waiting and 10 per cent running around.

“The local crews would have been happy to do it,” said Mr Syms. “I think it says something about how rigid and unimaginative the unions and management have been. It seems to me a perfect example of a regulation that ought to be looked at again.”

Joanne Kaye-Smith, the regional manager for public services union, Unison, acknowledged a national agreement on rest breaks.

“However as professionals dealing with emergencies, we know that our members will always be willing to be flexible and to put patient safety first,” said Ms Kaye-Smith.

l Bethany has since staged a strong recovery from a fractured skull and has been released from the paediatric intensive care unit at Southa-mpton Hospital, where she was transferred from Poole.

Police are calling for witnesses to the collision, which happened at 5.15pm last Thursday at the junction of Sandy Lane and Blandford Road, and involved a red Toyota car.

Anyone with information, should call Dorset Police on 01202 222222.