Ailing Ambulance Service requires aid
It is obvious that there is something seriously amiss with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. Days lost through staff sickness have almost trebled in the last five years with reasons for sick leave given as stress, work related issues, depression and anxiety.
Obviously being a member of an ambulance crew is a stressful occupation. In the vast majority of cases staff are being asked to attend incidents in which people are either seriously ill or have been seriously injured. Dealing with such cases on a daily basis is bound to have a negative effect on staff health and mental outlook.
The situation is made even worse when paramedics are attacked by the very people they have rushed to help or by friends of those patients. Quite rightly most of us would view such behaviour as totally reprehensible and the DUP has done a signal service to the ambulance crews and workers in other emergency services, such as police and firefighters, by introducing laws which laid down stricter punishment for those who attack them.
While acknowledging the inherent pressures of the job and the increasingly frequent assaults on ambulance crews, it is still baffling why the number of days lost to staff sickness have increased so dramatically.
There are the usual claims and counter-claims by unions and management, with the former alleging that staff shortages and increased workloads are to blame for demoralisation among staff. Management, on the other hand, say they take staff health seriously and have set up a health and wellbeing group and access to counselling services.
From the outside it is impossible to say where the fault lies. It is ironic that a service which came through the horrors of the Troubles should now, in peace-time, find its members apparently suffering from burn-out and stress and the level of service to the public falling below set levels. Nearly half of 999 calls are not met within the target times.
One explanation for this would be a service stretched to its limit. If that is the case then there needs to be further investment in the service, which potentially all of us rely on at time of greatest need. If ambulance crews cannot get to emergency cases in time the result can be fatal and negates the very reason for the service in the first place.
This is another part of the creaking NHS which new Health Minister Michelle O'Neill needs to examine closely and bring up to scratch.