Saturday 24 February 2018

Ambulance service 'on the brink of bedlam' as strike threat looms

Blame: Brendan Howlin
Blame: Brendan Howlin
Adam Cullen

Adam Cullen

A union representing workers in the National Ambulance Service (NAS) says the service is currently on the "brink of bedlam" with the prospect of a nationwide strike "extremely likely" in the very near future.

The National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA) chairperson Michael Dixon said industrial action by its 400 members is "imminent" unless drastic changes occur "very quickly".

Mr Dixon said strikes could roll out as early as January with members due to meet in the new year.

"At the moment, a strike looks like it could take place as early as January, as there are many issues affecting staff in the service. In our eyes, and in the eyes of our members, the service is on the brink of bedlam," he said.

"Last month, we had Minister Brendan Howlin blaming staff after a man sadly bled to death in Louth. He said short-notice staff absences were to blame for the fact that there were fewer ambulances on the road that night. There is a staff shortage of 200 people in the service, and that is currently down to him and the Government, not us."

Dundalk man Dualtagh Donnelly (25) died in November. His family claimed it took an ambulance almost 40 minutes to reach his home after he had cut his arm on a glass door.

Mr Howlin later confirmed there were only eight ambulances in service in the area at that time, where there would usually be 10.

It is now feared there may be a shortage of ambulances in the same area during one of the year's most hectic periods for the emergency services. As reported by the Irish Independent last week, large swathes of north Leinster could be without ambulance cover over the busy Christmas period.

Text messages seen by this newspaper show management actively seeking staff to work in the coming days. It has been claimed that up until Wednesday, no staff had been scheduled to staff ambulance services in Monaghan between December 25 and 31. Only one ambulance was scheduled for service between December 21 and 24 and into the new year. A single ambulance was also scheduled for service in Drogheda and Navan.

It is believed that an alleged blunder by management saw all staff who applied for annual leave for Christmas being granted the time off, leaving a massive void in the roster.

Internal memos reveal all leave was cancelled last Thursday. Fears have now been raised that a number of staff will take unauthorised sick leave, putting the service under serious strain.

There have also been fresh concerns from workers in the NAS who say the situation is likely to affect other parts of the country. Worried NAS staff have said in areas of the South- East some 70 shifts have yet to be filled by either relief staff or full-time staff.

In response, the HSE said "The NAS plans to cover all rosters over the holiday period", adding that no area will be hindered by a staffing shortage. "There are no plans to take ambulances out of service," said a spokesperson. They added that no private ambulance companies would be drafted in, in the event there is a staff shortage.

"The NAS will provide cover within its existing resources and will continually review same to ensure service delivery is protected at all times."

However, they admitted the NAS has faced a challenge in filling rosters. "The NAS does face challenges due to the nature of the service, as do other parts of the HSE, which provide 24/7 cover. NAS have developed a workforce plan to manage the situation going forward. The NAS acknowledges the commitment of staff over the holiday period, which is necessary to ensure service delivery is protected at all times."

Irish Independent

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