WATERFORD Ambulance Service staff members have said they will escalate their industrial action from tomorrow (Wednesday).
The initial action by Unite members began on April 5th but was suspended to allow a meeting of Unite representatives and management to be convened.
After two meetings were held on April 5th and 7th, and after a proposal was offered to staff, the industrial action recommenced at 11 am on April 8th.
Now, members have said they will escalate their action this week but again stressed that it will not impact on patient care.
“After two intense meetings with management it was felt that the issues that staff have put forward were not addressed in the proposal and indeed the proposal itself had serious health and safety concerns which would make a bad situation even worse,” said paramedic and shop steward Keith Bradfield.
He added: “The action at the moment is based around the gathering of statistical information as required by HIQA from the National Ambulance Service so it in no way affects the treatment of patients or response of crews attending incidents.”
A National Emergency Operations Centre opened in Tallaght last year and all calls made to the ambulance service are now dealt with from this location.
Waterford Ambulance Service members have expressed deep concerns over the new system which they say has had a “knock-on effect”, with staff members reaching “breaking point” and suffering from “burn out”.
“It must be clearly noted that this action was undertaken by Unite members as a last resort as staff were, and indeed still are, being pushed to a point where their own health and well-being is being affected,” said Mr Bradfield.
“We must also state that when staff members are being stretched the way they are, there is a real possibility that this could have a detrimental effect on patient care and this is an issue that staff in Waterford city and county ambulance service will not allow happen.”
He continued: “A clear example would be a crew working continuously for over seven hours without a break and then being instructed to do a ‘blue light transfer’ to a Dublin hospital while they are 11 hours into their shift, and when requesting 15 minutes to have quick refreshments being instructed to have same after they get to Dublin.”
The action which has recommenced will now be escalated at agreed intervals up to and including full withdrawal of services – a point which Mr Bradfield says no staff member in Waterford or Dungarvan wishes to reach.
Commenting on the situation, Tony Kelly of Unite said: “Our members would like to extend their thanks to all the members of the public, as well as elected representatives, who have supported our action. Our members are determined to ensure that the Waterford city and county ambulance service continues providing the highest levels of service to the public. Unite’s priority is to ensure and enhance patient safety.”
Also commenting on the issue, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said: “The implementation of the new National Emergency Operations Centre is causing logistical difficulties which could impact on patient care.
“In Waterford this can result in an ambulance from Waterford or Dungarvan being dispatched to a call 30 or more miles from their area, since local ambulances are also out on calls, leaving the city and county without adequate cover. The Minister for Health needs to directly intervene and address the serious concerns being raised by ambulance drivers. I will be raising these issues directly with the Minister.”