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Long shifts, increased stress... these guys are drained

By Victoria O'Hara

A member of the Ambulance Service tells in his own words of the pressures on the front line. At his request, his identity is withheld.

Staff are at breaking point. Morale is almost non-existent. There is a very high level of sickness.

People are put under too much strain. They are doing a 12-hour shift and they are not getting meal breaks. They are being sent from one call to another to another with no down time in between.

And when they finish their shift — supposedly after 12 hours — if a call comes in five minutes before they finish for an emergency transfer to Dublin they can’t turn that down. It turns the shift into a 15 or 16-hour shift. They can get compensatory rest but that’s no good at the time. These guys are drained.

Stress levels are up and they are not physically capable of maintaining this for much longer. I think that within a short period of time you will see even more sickness.

If it wasn’t for the front line staff pushing themselves beyond what is reasonably expected of them, the service would collapse overnight.

Cuts to finances have led to fewer staff and pressure on crews.

The Patient Client Service Crews is a non-emergency transport service and is supposed to be there purely on the basis of mobility need, not clinical need.

They are trained in moving techniques, specialist equipments, wheelchairs, stretchers and moving aids.

AS2 emergency calls are classified as a secondary level of importance, deemed by a doctor to require that the patient be taken to A&E by ambulance as a matter of urgency, although the patient is not deemed to be suffering a life-threatening illness. These calls had previously been attended by trained paramedics or emergency medical technicians.

The typical scenario is: you get a call and the patient is generally unwell. But when you arrive you can find them gasping for breath, not assessed or looked at by any clinician. All we can do is take their pulse and count breaths.

We can’t treat or assess. Alternatively, an inexperienced crew may not recognise the seriousness of a patient’s condition.

On one occasion I was sent to a diabetic patient with multiple health problems, described as “generally unwell”. After requesting A&E assistance, as PCS staff cannot measure blood sugars, I was forced to ask the patient’s family to ring 999 from the property in order to upgrade the call to an emergency.

I know a large number of staff who, if another job came up — something that was going to pay the same and have the same kind of security — they would go like a shot.

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