Paramedics 'work 25 hours straight' despite break rule
PARAMEDICS are working up to 25 hours straight despite regulations stipulating an 11-hour break after 16 hours on duty.
The Irish Independent has also learned some areas have been left without ambulance cover as an escalating row over 'on-call' paramedic duties pushes the system close to breaking point.
One paramedic said it was now "pretty routine" for ambulance crews to work 20 to 22 hours in Cork and Kerry, the only major region which still relies on the controversial 'on-call' system.
This involves crews -- from Monday to Thursday -- working 12 hours and then remaining 'on call' for a further 12 hours.
"There are times when you finish that you are absolutely exhausted. You might have started at 8am and you're only getting home at 5am, 6am or even 8am," he said.
Other regions rely on overtime and support crews to provide ambulance cover.
SIPTU's Ted Kenny described the system in Cork and Kerry as "totally outdated".
The Health Service Executive (HSE) was forced to issue a special directive to paramedics, after one manager warned of disciplinary action and potential criminal proceedings.
"No staff member is to be allowed to work over 16 hours -- if they are required to work over 16 hours, they must have a minimum 11-hour break before resumption of duty," it stressed.
"The only exception to this will be when a major incident is declared."
The memo continued: "This is an extremely serious issue which could lead to criminal proceedings in the event of an accident and . . . failure to implement my instruction may lead to disciplinary action."
However, a second HSE official directed staff in Cork and Kerry on November 22 to maintain the current system.
That directive came after it was confirmed some areas were left without ambulance cover after staff worked more than 16 hours without a break.
"The situation is that staff may stand themselves down after completion of 16 hours -- but must remain available to the control centre for emergency calls only" the directive said.