Reilly blames unions for ambulance shift reform

Health Minister James Reilly has admitted making ambulance paramedics work 22-hour shifts is “not safe” — but has blamed unions for reform delays.

Speaking after the Irish Examiner revealed a €100,000-plus ambulance was written off last week after a paramedic fell asleep at the wheel, Dr Reilly voiced working time concerns.

The incident, which is under HSE investigation, involved a two-person paramedic team who hit an ESB pole in West Cork.

They had been working from 8am to 8pm on Thursday, before going on call for a further 12 hours when the crash occurred.

Dr Reilly said the on-call shifts were at the heart of the problem and would be replaced with a second official shift by a separate crew by Feb 1.

However, despite calls to speed up reform which the Labour Court ruled 18 months ago must take place, the Fine Gael TD said it was unions and not Government who were delaying the change.

“To have people on-call for that duration is not safe and neither is it efficient,” said Dr Reilly. “But there’s a difference between being on call and working. The trouble we’re having now is with the unions. I don’t want people working this length of time, I want them working specified periods. This [last Friday’s incident] was somebody who had been on call. That’s why we’re changing the methodology because we want to bring in a more safe, more organised system.”

Mr Reilly also responded to claims by Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher that his freedom of information request on the primary care centres fiasco had been “blocked”.

Mr Kelleher said the query had been delayed for “another four weeks”, and that he had “tried and failed for weeks” to get “a straight answer” on how the 35 centres were chosen.

Mr Reilly said: “He’s going to get the reply, but he’s not going to get it immediately. The reason for that is very simply, there’s over 300-odd FoI requests in with the department and he’s not the only person who can’t get an immediate response.

“Billy Kelleher has no greater right than all the other people who have put in FoIs.”

!Dr Reilly was speaking in University College Cork at the launch of a major innovation hub involving the health service and leading firms which could help turn Ireland into the Silicon Valley of the multitrillion-euro global medical research industry.

The centre will act as a dry run for a planned national hub next year, and was launched by Dr Reilly and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton.

While no target has been outlined on how many jobs can be created and how much money will be brought into Ireland as a result of the move, the ministers said the hub’s existence is a key step forward toward kickstarting the economy.

Six companies focusing on services such as nano-technology blood tests have signed up.

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