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File image of an ambulance in Dublin last year. Sam Boal
Ambulance Service

Number of paramedics should 'at least' double to reduce burnout among staff

People in the sector are facing burnout with some leaving for other jobs, representatives have said.

AMBULANCE WORKERS FEEL “taken for granted” with staffing levels and workloads causing burnout and leading to some leaving the sector. 

Representatives have said staff numbers should at least double to tackle the current issues facing ambulance workers.

Ted Kenny, ambulance sector organiser with trade union Siptu, said there are 1,200 paramedics working in Ireland. 

The HSE said there are 2,000 staff members in the National Ambulance Service overall. 

Kenny said he’s aware of 30 or 40 people who have left the sector in recent times for a number of reasons, including burnout. 

“Some of them would have left because of the working conditions within the National Ambulance Service, because of the extended duties, not being able to get breaks,” Kenny told The Journal

“It’s across all grades of the ambulance service.

You have situations where paramedics are doing between 12 and 16 and 17, 18 hour shifts. There is burnout there and the only way that will be addressed is with extra staff.

He said some people left to take up jobs in universities and others retired. Some staff moved to other healthcare roles and some left the sector entirely. 

“There is still a job of work to be done in relation to recruitment of paramedics and ICOs [Intermediate Care Operative] on the ground.”

Staffing levels are a major part of the issues at hand.

“There’s huge investment that has to be done in the National Ambulance Service,” Kenny added. 

“There has to be extra ambulances in the system, there has to be recruitment of staff and we’re actively working on that.”

Kenny said ambulance service calls have also increased “dramatically” in the last two years but funding for the NAS has not reflected this rise.

A statement from the HSE said: “In July 2021, NAS commissioned a Demand and Capacity Analysis which when finalised, is expected to inform a Workforce Plan and submission for funding for 2023 and 2024.

“NAS recently ran a recruitment campaign for Student Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians with advertisements on radio, in press and on social media.”

This capacity analysis will help determine what the NAS needs to improve services and the situation for staff. 

Kenny said this will involve increased funding. He said the amount of paramedics must be at least doubled to improve the current situation. 

There should be at least 3,500 paramedics working in the system, he said.

“It seems to be a problem across all emergency services… It’s a failure by government to invest in public services in this country.” 

Going above and beyond 

Peter Ray, chairperson of the Irish Ambulance Representative Council/Siptu, said workers in the ambulance service are “not afraid” to head towards strike action if pushed. 

He said people are working “extremely hard, well beyond what’s expected of them” in the sector. 

Workers feel “taken for granted”, he added.

“We clearly have to make this as an attractive job option, an attractive career option,” Ray told The Journal.

“We have never let and will not let the Irish people down but if they force us into a situation we’ve seen recently where doctors have taken a 97% [vote in favour of] strike action.

“If you push what society highly depends upon, we will react. It’s only human.”

He further said workers are becoming burnt out under the present working conditions. 

“I know we’re not unique in that but clearly in regard to other jurisdictions we are clearly, clearly understaffed. 

“We need to at least double the number of people within the service.

It’s not going to be fixed today or tomorrow. What they have to do on the pay front is make it a realistic career option for somebody.

Healthcare workers have reported high levels of stress and burnout across the board during the pandemic. 

Nurses are suffering from burnout due to the consistent high workloads they are facing, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association said earlier this month. 

Three quarters of hospital staff working in the country’s two largest emergency departments during the pandemic showed signs of burnout, research showed last year.

Author
Niall O'Connor & Orla Dwyer
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