The rural development minister for Northern Ireland has expressed grave concerns about a proposed cut to regional ambulance services.

Michelle Gildernew has called for an urgent meeting with health minister Michael McGimpsey to discuss changes that would cut ambulance cover by 70,000 hours, but increase paramedic services.

The move, which would hit rural areas the hardest, has already been approved by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and has now gone to the health minister for consideration.

Ms Gildernew said: “It is my responsibility to be a champion for our rural communities. In that capacity I am seeking an urgent meeting with the health minister to discuss concerns about erosion of ambulance services from rural areas.

“I have looked carefully at the proposals and have very real concerns about the potential impact they could have in rural areas.

“I want to ensure that people in rural areas will be properly served by the health service.”

The ambulance service said the move has been proposed because more people wanted to be treated at home instead of in an emergency room.

It also said the position of rural areas had been taken into account, and an extra 135,000 hours of paramedic rapid response cover had been arranged as a result, though responsibility for transporting patients to hospital would remain with ambulance crews.