Cloak and dagger political decision to close ambulance call centre in Castlebar

Sixteen jobs are to be lost in Castlebar early in 2011 with the closure of the multi-million euro ambulance emergency call centre in Castlebar, which will be transferred to a new centre in Ballyshannon.

The news was confirmed to Fine Gael Deputy John O’Mahony last night after he raised the issue during the Adjournment Dáil Session in which Junior Health Minister, Aine Brady, announced the news.

The centre was originally based in Castlebar Fire Station and then moved to St Mary’s hospital grounds. Millions was spent on the regional call centre which services emergency calls in Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon and which dealt with more than 100,000 emergency calls, more than three times that logged at the Ballyshannon Centre. Staff at the centre also received specialised training from American tutors at a cost of tens of thousands, in order to verse them thoroughly with the workings of the AMPDS system (advanced medical priority despatch system ).

“This would not have happened if we had political power in Mayo,” said Dep O’Mahony. “This is a political decision whereby Minister Mary Coughlan has taken the centre for her area, it is not a money saving decision. The same thing happened with the procurement centre at Mayo General Hospital where jobs are being transferred not for money-saving reasons but again for political reasons.

“Where are Deputy Calleary and Flynn on this? This move to Ballyshannon was mooted last year but then went quiet. I just happened to get my hands on a leaked document but workers hadn’t got word about it at all. It’s all cloak and dagger stuff with no information coming to workers until the whole thing has been arranged. It comes on top of the move of the procurement stores from Mayo General so clearly Mayo is now losing out big time on political decisions.”

SIPTU branch organiser for Mayo Health Services, Padraig Heverin, recalled that the ambulance centre had initially been tipped for closure in March last, deferred to April, but then all went quiet.

“They want to reduce the call centres down from the current eight to two in the country, but it’s pretty obvious the Castlebar closure is all about it going to the constituency of Mary Coughlan, so shame on the TDs of Castlebar and Mayo who let that happen. Had the move been the other way with those in Ballyshannon moving down, it would have meant 30 jobs would have been created. Clearly now they’re hoping the workers in Castlebar won’t travel so there will be more jobs for their own people up there.”

Mr Heverin added that after lobbying Mayo TDs on the issue both Government Fianna Fail TDs, Beverly Flynn and Dara Calleary, “shrugged their shoulders and just said it was a done deal”.

“From a union point of view we have fought since last year and we’re refusing to cooperate with the move,” he said. “This has come in without any consultation and the silence of the Government TDs on this is deafening.”

When contacted, Dep Calleary stated: “I have raised the issue with Minister Harney and the HSE previously, pointing out the need and made a business case to retain the centre in Castlebar. I regret that the closure is proceeding, however I will continue to monitor all issues around the ambulance service.”

Dep Beverly Flynn responded that it was ‘never a matter of shrugging our shoulders or a done deal’.


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