05/02/2002

Ambulance staff seek immediate action to stop attacks

Ambulance staff in Northern Ireland have said industrial action is a distinct possibility if attacks on drivers and crew persist.

The threat of a strike comes following an attack on an ambulance driver who was taking a seriously ill pensioner to hospital via the Crumlin Road on Monday night. A brick hit the windscreen, smashing it and the woman driver had to fight to keep the vehicle on the road.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service met union officials on Tuesday morning and met management of the Joint Consultative National Committee in the afternoon.

Unison branch Commander of the NI Ambulance Service Paddy Milligan said some form of industrial action would be seriously considered. He said: "Personally I believe there is an onus of the Minister for Health to respond to our call. I believe the way forward is for Minister to finance us directly instead of getting direction from the four boards. The Assembly must back us and something positive must be done."

Mr Milligan said there had been talk of an Ambulance going around to schools as part of an educational process. However he said: "To be honest we can't spare an ambulance as we are so pushed. We are even finding it difficult to cover night shifts if someone is sick."

Last month ambulance crew from across the province met in Derry to discuss the increasing attacks on paramedics. At that meeting trade union officials said staff wanted meetings with Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brún to discuss the continuing attacks and the Police Service Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan to discuss a zero tolerance approach to people who attack health service workers.

However to date, according to Mr Milligan both the minister and chief constable have failed to respond.

Over the past year attacks on paramedics have doubled with ambulance staff becoming increasingly concerned about attacks on such this essential and often lifesaving service. (AMcE)

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