Belfast Telegraph

Paramedic who said staff were on brink of suicide 'off duty for his own good'

RCN (NI) director Pat Cullen
RCN (NI) director Pat Cullen

By Lisa Smyth

A paramedic was removed from duty to help his mental health after he warned working conditions were pushing colleagues to the brink of suicide, it has been claimed.

Bosses at the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) took the decision to stand down the paramedic as a "proactive measure".

It came after the disgruntled employee took to Facebook to post a damning assessment of the stress paramedics in Northern Ireland face on a daily basis.

His post, which was shared more than 140 times within hours of it appearing on Facebook, criticised management and unions for the ongoing disparity in pay between staff here compared to their counterparts in Scotland.

The devastating post urged bosses to act urgently to address working conditions "before you wake up to a headline some day that will haunt you for the rest of your days".

In a statement NIAS said the move to temporarily remove the paramedic from duty was a standard measure that is put in place when there are concerns about an employee's mental wellbeing.

It said the measure is used by managers "to support staff following a range of difficult circumstances such as staff having attended a traumatic call or having been assaulted".

A spokesman stressed the term "stand down" was being "wrongly understood to infer a sanction of some form".

He said that NIAS takes seriously the issue of staff mental health and has a range of programmes that staff are encouraged to use, including an external and confidential assistance programme.

He continued: "The services available under this programme have recently been reviewed, expanded and updated. Staff are also encouraged to approach line managers across the organisation."

The Facebook post, aimed at management and highlighted in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, was a scathing assessment of the challenges facing paramedics.

"You are walking us into a mental health crisis with your attitude to this and also to our day to day welfare regarding rest periods, late finishes and enforced overtime," it said. "You are haemorrhaging staff as people jump ship to Capita, GP surgeries or just leave before the job kills them.

"Is that what it's going to take for you to sit up and notice the rot beneath your feet?

"We are fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, daughters, carers, colleagues and friends, and we are sick to the back teeth of your inaction and procrastination.

"Get it sorted or move over and let someone who has an ounce of compassion get the job done for you, before you wake up to a headline someday that will haunt you for the rest of your days."

The NIAS spokesman said many of the issues raised by the paramedic are down to the ongoing staffing issues, a situation the trust is working to address.

He said 48 associate ambulance practitioners began working yesterday and it is hoped they will help alleviate pressures on the service.

He added: "NIAS staff work in very challenging circumstances, providing an essential service to the public and the trust takes seriously its responsibilities in regard to the provision of support to staff in relation to all aspects of their health and well-being and particularly mental health.

"We will continue to work to ensure that our staff are given whatever help and support they need in this regard."

Health bosses are coming under increasing pressure to address pay disparity between NHS staff here and the rest of the UK.

Earlier this month the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland warned that thousands of members may walk out amid growing unrest over pay and conditions.

Paramedics and nurses have both complained they frequently work unpaid overtime, without breaks to eat or go to the toilet.

At the same time, they are earning thousands of pounds less than NHS staff doing the same jobs in England, Scotland and Wales.

RCN (NI) director Pat Cullen said of the situation: "I really feel awful shame at how nurses are being totally and utterly exploited.

"It is clear exploitation, let's not dress it up anymore, more and more is being pushed on our nurses."

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