Meeting the challenges and winning respect for ambulance workers

EPSU Policy staff for Health & Social Services M. Maucher at SIPTU seminar on paramedics April 2018

Mathias MAUCHER, EPSU Policy Officer Health and Social Services at the SIPTU Seminar for Ambulance Staff and Paramedics, 6 April 2018, Dublin

(12 April 2018)  On 6 April 2018 SIPTU organised in Dublin the ambulance professionals conference "Meeting the Challenges – Winning Respect". It brought together about 40 members and workers’ representatives working in the National Ambulance Service. It discussed working conditions, questions of professionalisation of paramedics, health and safety issues, staffing levels and the recognition of the particularly demanding work of paramedics and the ambulance staff more in general. A video has been produced from the event (see on youtube or facebook). In 2016 SIPTU representatives had submitte a proposal to the Public Service Pay Commission for a dedicated job evaluation scheme for members in the National Ambulance Service. Last year SIPTU members in the National Ambulance Service (NAS) have expressed concern over the impact on services and patient safety resulting from the delays they are experiencing in signing patients into emergency departments in hospitals across the country.

The Irish government had announced plans to lift retirement age from 65 to 70 years. SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “Our members are determined to engage with Government on their intention to extend the legal retirement age for public servants from 65 to 70 years of age. Members of the public may not be aware that the normal retirement age of ambulance professionals employed by the Health Service Executive is 65 unlike members of the Fire Service or Defence Forces. This is unacceptable and we will be campaigning for parity of esteem with other frontline emergency workers.” He added: “The job of an ambulance professional is both stressful and physical by its nature. The occupation requires shift work, long hours and this contributes to a degree of burnout. It is also necessary to understand that ambulance professionals require continual academic training and education which bring their own pressures. Our demands are simple. We want an independent study on the physical ability of ambulance professionals to perform the full range of life-saving duties at more than 65 years of age. It must also include an analysis of international best practice, as well as comparing the role with the Fire Service, Defence Forces and Prison Officers all of which are exposed to similar working environments.”

The director of the National Ambulance Service in Ireland, Martin Dunne, gave an overview on the main evolutions and restructuration of the last 10 to 15 years and the main challenges ahead for the NAS, including future models of care and what this means in terms of workforce development.

Alan Lofthouse, UNISON, National Ambulance Services Officer, intervened to present and discuss the challenges ambulance professionals face and ways to win respect and recognition for their vital role in the local communities. He focused on the four pillars underpinning the UNISON Ambulance Campaign to win for ambulance workers: 1. "Fair pay for ambulance staff"; 2. "A safe and sensible retirement age"; 3. "Healthier health staff = healthier health patients" and 4. "Proper training, development and career progression" and elaborated on the success factors of the campaign. UNISON recently had mobilised for pay increases for ambulance staff and - following short-term industrial action - was able to successfully negotiate an agreement on improved terms and conditions for paramedics. UNISON, together with UNITE and GMB, is also involved in the National Ambulance Strategic Partnership Forum.

Mathias Maucher, EPSU Policy Officer “Health and Social Services”, in his presentation set out the thematically related contexts and initiatives as well as relevant debates and research work/studies at EU-level. EPSU work in recent year did not have a particular focus on the professional group of paramedics and/or the ambulance workforce, but this could change at least a bit if there was interest by a number of members to strengthen the focus on this professional group. For a first time for EPSU and the EU-level sectoral social dialogue committee for the hospital/health care sector there will be a presentation from the UK on how to deal with stress for ambulance staff at the joint EPSU-HOSPEEM conference on the prevention and reduction of musculo-skeletal disorders and of psycho-social risks and stress at the workplace in Vilnius on 23 and 24 May 2018, proposed by the NHS Employers. Mathias Maucher also elaborated on the main characteristics of the two Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Systems in Europe and around the globe, on the one hand the so-called French-German and on the other the so-called Anglo-American EMS System (read more in the article “Models of International Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Systems”. He compared main features of the systems in place in Ireland and the UK with the situation in Germany, with a particular focus on the organisation of the EMS, on type of personnel involved and their roles and the shift from a two year professional school-based training of a paramedic (in German “Rettungsassistent”) until 2013 to a three year-based professional school based paramedic (in German “Notfallsanitäter”) as of 2014, often working independently from, but partially also under the supervision of emergency doctors. He also informed about the roles of the Emergency Medical Responder (EMR; in German “Rettungshelfer”) and the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT; in German: “Rettungssanitäter”). Mathias Maucher also referred to the changing landscape of emergency and ambulance services in Germany where for profit providers aim to get a bigger share from the cake and which impacts this very likely has on the skills mix and the working conditions of paramedics and/or the ambulance workforce.

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