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Dublin firefighters to vote on industrial action over ambulance dispatch move

The National Ambulance Service will be taking all Dublin calls from now on – but firefighters aren’t happy with the move.

Dublin Fire Brigade ambulances will now be under the control of the National Ambulance Service.
Dublin Fire Brigade ambulances will now be under the control of the National Ambulance Service.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated at 7.11pm

SOME 600 SIPTU members in Dublin Fire Brigade are to be balloted for industrial action, in response to a decision to change how ambulance dispatches are carried out in Dublin.

Dublin City Council announced last night that the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS) operations centre in Tallaght is to take responsibility for all 999 calls.

The operations centre will also make decisions about the dispatch of both NAS and DFB ambulances. Currently, the Tallaght centre shares responsiblity for call-outs with Dublin Fire Brigade, based at Tara Street in the city centre.

The change was made after a review carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority was highly critical of national response times. HIQA described “inefficiencies” and “poor co-ordination” in the Dublin call and dispatch system.

A decision by SIPTU – which represents the majority of firefighters in the city – to ballot for industrial action was made an emergency meeting of the union’s DFB committee today.

“Our members consider this unilateral action as a breach of the Haddington Road Agreement, as there was no consultation or discussion with stakeholders prior to the decision being made,” organiser Brendan O’Brien said.

“The ambulance service delivered by DFB is second to none. It is economical and effective.

“The DFB responds to 80% of life threatening emergency calls within the HIQA recommended response time of under eight minutes.”

SIPTU members at Dublin Fire Brigade are already in a dispute with local government over staffing cuts they say threaten public safety.

The union says it has been “left with no option” but to ballot for industrial action.

St James Hospital 10 90326819 90372460 Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Minister

In a statement today, Minister Varadker said he is a “huge supporter” of the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance and their crews.  He said it is vital now that full consultation with unions takes place over the six month transition period, before any new measures come into play.

“I have made that very clear to all involved,” he said.

I will not stand for a single Fire Brigade ambulance being taken out of service. If anything we may need more.

Dublin City Council say that the change will allow for a more efficient service.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Irleland, DCC CEO Owen Keegan said there has been “a history of professional rivalry and non-cooperation” between the NAS and DFB .

In an additional change, DFB’s ambulance services are to be subjected to a new structure that will be overseen by the NAS. Fire brigade units will still be deployed in support of ambulances where required.

‘Between two stools’

Varadkar said the situation as it stands means some patients “occasionally fall between the two stools when calls are passed between the two services”.

All decisions made will put the interest of those who need a ambulance first.

The Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association said it believed the change could undermine confidence.

President John Kidd is calling on Minister Alan Kelly to ‘reign in the City Manager on this issue’.

“The DFB, which receives just 8% of the NAS budget, handles 60% of all emergency calls in the State and has achieved in the past the second highest success rate for survival of cardiac arrests after Seattle,” Kidd said.

The real problem for the ambulance service in Dublin which the NAS ignores, is not the control of the emergency call centre but the lack of investment in providing more ambulances for the city. The current call volume is simply unsustainable given the resources and number of ambulances available in the city’.

Kidd said he believed a national integrated fire and ambulance service was needed.

- Additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy and Daragh Brophy.

 Read: Where you live could determine whether an ambulance gets to you on time >

Read: Managers in the Ambulance Service say they lack the skills to do their work >

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Rónán Duffy

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