Friday 22 November 2019

Plans for ambulance services merger spark threat of strike

Dublin City Chief Executive Owen Keegan
Dublin City Chief Executive Owen Keegan

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

DUBLIN Fire Brigade ambulance staff have vowed to fight controversial moves to merge key functions with the Health Service Executive.

Paramedics will be balloted for industrial action following a decision taken at an emergency Siptu meeting yesterday.

"If this goes ahead, it will destroy a world-class public service provided by Dublin Fire Brigade for over a century," said Siptu organiser Brendan O'Brien.

The threat follows an announcement by Dublin City Council chief Owen Keegan that the city service would merge its back office functions - covering call-taking and dispatch - with the HSE's National Ambulance Service in around six months.

The Dublin Fire Brigade service has resisted all suggestions to merge with the HSE, despite a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) criticising poor co-operation between the two and revealing around 14,000 calls a year for an ambulance in the city and surrounding region are left in a queue, some for eight minutes at potential risk.

The relationship between the two has been fraught because Dublin City Council complained it is not paid enough to run the service by the HSE.

Paramedics in the Dublin Fire Brigade are also substantially better paid and have enhanced pension terms compared to HSE colleagues, leaving them reluctant to agree to any link-up for fear of losing this advantage.

A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council could not provide up-to-date response times for ambulances yesterday.

Mr O'Brien claimed 80pc of life-threatening emergency calls arrive on time. The national figure for the HSE ranged from 65pc to 74pc in November.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "It is vital that full consultation with unions now takes place over the six-month transition period before any new measures come into play.

"I am a huge supporter of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service and their crew who provide an excellent service to the people of Dublin alongside the National Ambulance Service.

"They are all much admired by the community for the work they do. However, there is room for improvement."

He added the plan is for the HSE's National Ambulance Service to take over back office functions such as call-taking, dispatch and clinical governance, from its new operations centre in Tallaght.

Irish Independent

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