herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Fire Brigade to consider strike over 999 calls plan

Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Health
Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Health
Owen Keegan, Dublin City manager arrives at Leinster House

SIPTU will ballot Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) members on industrial action over the HSE's plans to take over ambulance calls and dispatches.

Dublin City Council manager Owen Keegan this week announced that DFB will no longer be responsible for ambulance dispatch duties, a move that's opposed by firefighters' unions.

The decision sees responsibility for ambulance calls going to the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) Emergency Operations Centre in Tallaght.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar defended the HSE takeover of the dispatch system saying patient safety is the key factor in the decision.

Improvement

But Mr Varadkar also stated that he "will not stand" for a single DFB ambulance being taken out of service as a result of the proposed shake-up within ambulance call centres.

Mr Varadkar said he believes there is room for improvement in the ambulance service but pledged that none of DFB's 12 ambulances will be taken out of service.

"I will not stand for a single Fire Brigade ambulance being taken out of service. If anything we may need more," Mr Varadkar said.

"It is vital that full consultation with unions now takes place over the six month transition period, as set out under the Haddington Road Agreement," he said.

The current system for dispatching ambulances at DFB was criticised as having "inefficiencies" and "poor co-ordination" by a Health Information and Quality Authority report, published last December.

It also highlighted patient safety risk which Mr Varadkar said "cannot be ignored".

Last night, Siptu sector organiser Brendan O'Brien confirmed that the organisation would be balloting DFB members on industrial action over the HSE's plans to take over ambulance calls and dispatches.

Mr O'Brien said that the process would begin shortly and, depending on "logistics", could be concluded by the end of the month.

Fianna Fail senator Darragh O'Brien expressed his opposition to the move calling on the Minister to "put a stop to the dangerous decision" to strip the DFB of its role in Dublin's ambulance service.

The announcement has also caused concern among the city's firefighters.

Firefighter and paramedic Ross Mac Cobb (38) said there is a severe lack of numbers in ambulance services.

"People have died on the side of the road due to the non availability of ambulances," he said.

He said that resources were "stretched" and that the service gets about 7,500 calls a year, with some cases becoming delayed as a result.

Mr Mac Cobb, who is a member of the Irish Fire And Emergency Services Association, said that on any given work day he can be called out to at least 10 different incidents.

"The simple problem is that there aren't enough ambulances," Mr Mac Cobb told the Herald.

"It doesn't matter what way you dress it up there still aren't enough resources, we are still going to get delays.

"Delays are something I see on a daily basis. It can be stressful when you are doing everything you can in your skill set but there's nothing available."

hnews@herald.ie

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