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Would ambulance crews be ready for a case of Ebola here? Some staff aren't convinced

Sources say there is widespread concern about the readiness of frontline staff in the ambulance service.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE HSE SAYS it is developing DVDs and a training programme to deal with an Ebola case, but ambulance staff on the ground are worried that the response  to a real case would not be adequate.

Sources within the National Ambulance Service told TheJournal.ie that there is widespread concern about the readiness of frontline staff, a number of whom attended the Ebola scare in Dublin Airport two weeks ago.

One of the biggest concerns ambulance staff have is over the suitability and effectiveness of the suits they are being asked to use. A source says that the suits are left over from the 2009 swine flu outbreak – something the HSE denied when this website put the allegations to it.

“The IRT [Incident Response Team] have been trained and have suits, but we have flu suits. They’re left over from the swine flu. I wouldn’t even have one with me. They’re in packets in the station. When you put your feet in them, there’s puncture holes in them,” the source said.

“All ambulance front line vehicles carry PPE (personal protective equipment) suitable to deal with a suspected case of VHF to include Ebola,” the HSE said in a statement to TheJournal.ie.

“The suits issued by the NAS are equivalent to the suits that will be worn by all frontline staff in the HSE when dealing with a suspected case of Ebola. The risk of dealing with a suspected case of Ebola in Ireland is categorised as extremely low. However with the continuing spread of Ebola in the affected countries additional PPE suits are being issued within the NAS since last week.”

The issue of suits is particularly of concern for staff, but the HSE says it only plans to send the IRT, nicknamed “the ninjas” by staff, into a confirmed case.

“The Incident Response Team (IRT) are the only staff who should be exposed to a patient with confirmed Ebola. Paramedics will not be exposed to confirmed cases of Ebola – they may be exposed to suspected cases of Ebola which later are confirmed cases.

The IRT will transport all cases of confirmed Ebola from anywhere within Ireland to the NIU in the matter – it will not be frontline paramedics.

The group of specially-trained paramedics from the Incident Response Team (IRT) are the only ones that the HSE says would attend a confirmed case of Ebola.

However, in the event of a suspected case, the HSE says that adequate training has been provided. It says that staff were given a procedure in 2012 that was updated in 2014, as well as a tool for recognising symptoms.

All crews were issued with a ‘Viral Haemorrhagic Fever (VHF) Risk Assessment for use by Ambulance Personnel’. This is a risk assessment tool, in algorithm format, designed to allow staff to recognise patients with suspected Ebola. DVDs are currently being developed for distribution to stations and staff and a training schedule is being implemented for all staff over the coming weeks.

“Regular Clinical Directives have been issued over the past months to keep staff informed on how to recognise and deal with this condition in the very unlikely scenario that it will present at this time.”

Ambulance sources indicate that if called to a suspected case, they would consider not attending – but that is something they should take up with management, the HSE says.

“Staff should contact their line manager or control manager with any concerns they may have.”

Read: Passenger arrested for writing Ebola on an Aer Lingus coffee cup

Read: Patient being tested for Ebola in Belfast

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