Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service: Lives 'put at risk' because of 'shambolic' shift management

Northern Ireland Ambulance Service
Image caption The NIAS said no one who is seriously ill should be concerned that staff shortages will affect their care

Lives are being "put at risk" because of a crisis within the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), one of its workers has claimed.

The emergency medical technician (EMT) said that the system for managing shifts in the service was "shambolic".

The NIAS said it wants to reassure the public calls are being prioritised to ensure rapid response times.

On Saturday, the NIAS was 12 crews short because of a combination of sickness, staff and cancelled overtime.

The NIAS said this situation was not unusual at the weekend.

It also said it had become reliant on the support of the independent and voluntary sector over the last two years.

In a statement on Wednesday, it said it "will prioritise the calls received in ambulance control in an effort to ensure that the most urgent response is provided to those with the most serious or life-threatening conditions".

Bad feelings

The EMT worker, who did not want to be identified, has worked for the service for over a decade and said the situation was the worst he had ever seen.

"This isn't what I signed up for," he told the BBC, "They are destroying the service."

The worker claimed that employee leave was the biggest issue causing problems.

He said attempts to cover shifts were only made days before vacancies came up and employees regularly had leave cancelled at short notice, which had led to bad feelings among the staff.

He claimed 70% of his own leave requests had been turned down in the last 12 months.

"It means if people really need time off, they just call in sick," he said.

He also said agreed leave was being cancelled at the last minute and, in turn, employees were prepared to cancel overtime they had agreed to cover.

'Sinking ship'

EMTs work alongside paramedics delivering care, but there are certain procedures they cannot perform and they do not administer most drugs.

The EMT who contacted the BBC said Northern Ireland is falling behind when it comes to what technicians can do.

"In the south of Ireland, EMTs can do much more and it is the same in England," he said.

"We are so far behind the rest of the UK.

"There is no chief executive at the minute and there is no leadership within the service.

"We are rudderless - like a ship sinking to the bottom of the ocean."

A spokesperson for the NIAS said it is factually inaccurate to say it has no chief executive, as it has an interim chief executive and is currently recruiting for this position.

It also said it regrets that "that this member of staff has indicated that staff indulge in a practice of deliberately cancelling overtime at short notice - an action which, on his own judgement, must put patients lives at risk.

"However, the ambulance service realises that this is an anonymous assertion of one person and we do not believe that it is a widespread policy of our staff who have patient care as their main concern."

It said that the majority of staff leave is protected, but admits there was sometimes a need to decline casual leave requests at short notice.

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