Leo Varadkar, the health minister, has told the HSE and four local authorities in Dublin changes to the ambulance service in the capital cannot be implemented until there is “full consultation” with staff unions.
Dublin City Council confirmed on Monday night that agreement in principle had been reached between the HSE and four councils to give the National Ambulance Service (NAS) full responsibility for receiving all emergency calls in the Dublin region.
That agreement, in principle, would also give NAS responsibility for the dispatch of the emergency ambulances of both NAS and Dublin Fire Brigade, as well as putting the brigade under the clinical governance structure of NAS.
The Dublin City Council chief executive, Owen Keegan, said the move was in response to health watchdog Hiqa’s claim there was a lack of co-ordination and co-operation between Dublin Fire Brigade and NAS, particularly around call-taking and dispatch, which had an adverse impact on patient safety.
“I fully accept there are concerns about the HSE and the capacity of NAS,” he told RTÉ Radio yesterday. “We were faced with a situation in Dublin where it has been made clear by Hiqa there are two competing ambulance services, two public sector agencies with a history of professional rivalry and competition instead of co-operation. They have identified serious risks for patient safety as a consequence. We have to address that.”
He said there would be consultation with unions over the next six months but when asked whether it was going to happen, he replied: “I think it is. It has to happen if we are to address the very real risks and patient concerns identified by Hiqa.”
Mr Varadkar later issued a statement in which he said: “It is vital that full consultation with unions now takes place over the six-month transition period, as set out under the Haddington Road Agreement, before any new measures come into play. I have made that very clear to all involved.”
He also said he would not stand for a single fire brigade ambulance being taken out of service. “If anything we need more,” he added.
Yesterday afternoon, Siptu’s Dublin Fire Brigade section committee met to consider the plan before confirming members would be balloted for action.
Sector organiser, Brendan O’Brien, said: “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.
“The ambulance service delivered by Dublin Fire Brigade is second to none. It is economical and effective. [It] responds to 80% of life-threatening emergency calls within the Hiqa-recommended response time of un- der eight minutes.”