By Brendan Flynn
On Friday March 31st the ambulance staff of Mullingar ambulance station welcomed the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD to the official opening of their new state of the art station.
It has taken 20 years for the new station to become a reality, so it was a very special occasion for the staff and the town of Mullingar. Also in attendance for the opening were Robert Troy T.D., Peter Burke T.D., members of Westmeath County Council, Robert Morton National Director NAS, and retired members of the Mullingar Ambulance Service and guests from the Mullingar Hospital Group and wider area.
The Minister was given a personal tour of the new facility by May Gilsenan LEMT, during which she pointed out that the new station is five times bigger than the previous station and has a double indoor parking garage with six outdoor parking bays under cover. The new facility has an 8 to 10 seating fully equipped kitchen area and new rest rooms. There is a very large unisex locker room with two separate shower changing areas.
But what must be seen is the magnificent mural of the Children of Lir painted by local artist Colette Kearney. There is an equally impressive second mural in the new Reflection Room for staff who need some quiet time.
There are also offices for the LEMT’s and a separate office for the ORM. The whole of the building is protected with state of art security, with card swipe for every access point.
While in Mullingar station the Minister spoke about how he saw the ambulance service developing in the future.
One of his basic points was that the service would assist the hospital ED Departments with overcrowding as part of the new initiatives coming as part of future management plans.
After the official part of the visit the Minister asked to meet with members of staff to have a “chat”.
Those members of staff who attended the meeting where surprised that the Minister spoke with the staff without anybody from NAS or HSE management present. This allowed staff to speak freely and candidly.
The first issue raised with the Minister was the future for the ambulance service and he was asked whether he realised that every EMT, paramedic and advanced paramedic below officer grade was not graded within the HSE.
Minister Donnelly seemed genuinely surprised at this information. He was also informed that paramedics are classed as drivers with extra duties which again seemed to be really puzzling to the Minister.
One example outlined to the Minister highlighted the issue of lack of grading where a staff member told of how he gained a position on a panel with the Department of Justice.
However, he could not take up the role because after 22yrs service in NAS he was not graded and would have to start at Grade 1 again.
The Minister showed some confusion on this matter and was completely unaware that this kind of situation can arise.
The Minister set out his vision for how he sees the service moving forward and was complimentary on the high level of professionalism in the ambulance service.
On the ongoing negotiations on the issue of Rolls and Responsibilities, the Minister stated that unfortunately that was out of his remit as it is a matter that comes under the Department of Expenditure and Reform. However, he did say that he felt that it should be examined further.
The Minister also expressed his frustration at how long it is taking the HSE to open new ambulance stations around the country, and he quoted the example of the situation in Carlow where he had personally witnessed the difficult working conditions for staff there.
In general, those who attended the meeting felt it had been a productive discussion and felt that the Minister had genuinely engaged with the staff concerns.
Concluding what had been a long day, the Mullingar ambulance station wished the Minister well, and expressed the hope that he had taken on board the views and concerns of the staff members.