A serious situation has been brought to my attention by paramedics and our local radio station, LMFM, today relating to the north-east ambulance service, which has resulted in a serious deficit in the service available and an inability to respond to calls due to a lack of staff and a lack of vehicles being available. Last night, within the nine stations in the north east a total of 22 staff should have been rostered for duty. Unfortunately, there were only 12 and in most cases they were rostered on a single person basis. Stations affected last night included those in Drogheda, Ardee, Virginia, Monaghan, Castleblayney and Dundalk. Basically, this meant that in Castleblayney, where there should have been two staff on an ambulance, there was only one rostered on duty. One staff member cannot man or take out an ambulance except to act as first responder in the event of a cardiac arrest.
This problem began approximately eight months ago, when management informed the staff in Monaghan and Castleblayney stations that new rosters were to be introduced without delay bringing six new staff in total to the region. Needless to say, this was welcomed by all staff and a roster was worked on to incorporate the new staff. Around November of last year, management then said they had never agreed to six new staff and instead appointed two to Monaghan and two to Castleblayney. New rosters were eventually agreed and put into place with management insisting that they were to become operational on certain dates. I believe those dates were to be in January for Monaghan and from last Monday for Castleblayney. The rosters have become operational but no new staff have been provided to populate these rosters. It has been described to me as like putting an amount of orange cordial into a larger amount of water. It might look all right but it does not taste the same. The service now has the same staff attempting to fill a bigger roster. They were already short staffed beforehand so this has added greatly to this serious problem.
Ongoing staff shortages are due to a combination of sick leave, annual leave and the simple fact that there are not enough staff. In addition to these problems, this week paramedic staff were also on electronic patient care report training. The staff had to be released to attend the training. The training is to facilitate the move from paper to electronic care reports for patients. Again, this is being completed to a management deadline with little or no consideration for the impact on already depleted services.
The lack of an ambulance in Castleblayney is problematic. The new roster came with the understanding by staff that an ambulance would be provided to complete the roster. Staff were recently told that this ambulance is now not available and that they should use the ambulances they have. That is all well and good except that on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday there is a 7 a.m. crew and a 10 a.m. crew for 12-hour shifts. If both these crews are out on late calls at 7 p.m., then there would be no ambulance available to deploy even if there were staff on duty. The practice has been that when a problem occurs with rostering, a text is sent out looking for staff to cover the shift. This is a regular occurrence. The core rostering system does not work and the failure by those in charge to engage with staff is adding to the problem.