Michael Bloomfield: Depending on the goodwill of ambulance workers is unsustainable
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has for too long relied on the goodwill of staff to cover shift vacancies on an overtime basis.
This is an unsustainable position as has been evidenced in the challenges we face covering shifts, particularly on weekend nights.
I am well aware of the issues facing our staff in terms of missed meal breaks, late finishes which sometimes result in staff working up to 15-hour shifts, long turnaround times at emergency departments, staff vacancies and cancelled leave.
I understand the impact that all of these issues can have on staff.
I never cease to be amazed by the job that NIAS staff do, across all levels of the organisation, and I am aware that it is my responsibility to seek to resolve these issues.
NIAS is currently developing its strategic direction for the next five to 10 years.
This work cannot be done without the input of those who actually deliver the service.
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To that end we have been engaging with staff to seek their views on what a modern ambulance service should look like, both in terms of how we look after patients and look after our staff.
These conversations have been ongoing for the past few weeks and will continue until the end of August. They have been extremely frank and informative and carried out in the most professional way.
I am encouraged by the feedback from our staff and I sense that their goodwill remains intact and that with an agreed roadmap to the future, which recognises the increasingly central role that NIAS plays in the health and social care transformation programme, our staff will continue to face the challenges of today and tomorrow with a positive attitude and determination to improve the care we provide for patients.
This week has been a particularly challenging one.
There has been a great deal of planning and effort put in to providing the best level of resources that we could.
Staff have, as they often do, pulled out all of the stops and gone above and beyond what could reasonably be expected to provide the best possible service for the public we serve. On behalf of the Board and senior management team, I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to them all.
Earlier this year we consulted on a proposed new clinical response model which, if approved together with the associated resources required for its implementation, will result in a very significant increase in the NIAS workforce.
The implementation of these changes will take time and I am aware that the challenges we have faced this weekend will continue, but hopefully on a reduced scale as we see the impact of additional staff currently being recruited and trained.
By the end of this year we will have more than 100 extra staff, paramedics and emergency medical technicians on the frontline.
It is only by looking after our staff that we will be able to look after our patients and I will ensure this continues to be our top priority.
I would again offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has given of their time this week to ensure that patients who need us receive a response appropriate to their needs.
I am also grateful for the co-operation provided by our colleagues across the health service and the voluntary and private ambulance services who have played a key role in assisting us, not only this weekend but on an ongoing basis.
Through our Memorandum of Understanding with the National Ambulance Service in the Republic of Ireland, we were able to secure an additional resource for the night shift on Friday and Saturday nights.
This has been a very welcome and much appreciated addition to our capacity to respond.
Michael Bloomfield is the chief executive of the NI Ambulance Service