Case Study Staff Engagement – National Ambulance Service (South)

The National Ambulance Service (South) established a regional staff engagement forum last year to help improve communication between management and frontline staff in the region.

A desire to respond in a positive way to results from the Health Sector National Staff Survey 2016 was one of the motivations in for setting up the forum.

The National Ambulance Service (NAS) had a 50% higher response rate to the survey than most other services.

“I think the results of the Health Sector National Staff Survey displayed a level of frustration felt by staff at what they saw as a lack of engagement,” said Niamh Lacey, Operations Officer with the NAS in Wexford.

Niamh, a member of the National Staff Engagement Forum and the NAS South Forum, said:

“There has been a lot of change. There has been significant developments from a clinical perspective. Staff have embraced these changes but perhaps there is a feeling of a lack of engagement or involvement. More engagement is required.”

For example, the establishment of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) operating across two sites, Tallaght Dublin and Ballyshannon Co Donegal, was a major change for the ambulance service.

Niamh said: “We went from local control centres to a new national system, the advantages to the change were recognised however. I think in some ways we underestimated the issues that were going to arise from it.”

The South Forum is now one of four regional forums in the NAS. The others cover the West, North Leinster and the NEOC. There are 29 ambulance stations in the south region with about 500 staff working in the service there.

Ray Lanigan, a paramedic in Waterford, and also a member of the National Staff Engagement Forum and the NAS South Forum, joined the National Staff Engagement Forum when it was set up in 2016.

“At first I thought progress was slow but gradually through my involvement I could see the progress we were making. Now the National Forum is making its own way and has credibility.

“There wouldn’t have been a great knowledge among NAS staff about the National Forum but staff now see the NAS South Forum up and running. Staff on the ground can get involved in it. It’s not just a meeting being held in Dublin. The Forum idea is being brought to grass roots level and people have a chance to input, raise issues and suggest solutions.”

Niamh and Ray are now co-chairs of the NAS South Forum which has 30 members representative of all grades. Senior management have given a commitment to facilitate the Forum.

Niamh said: “It’s important that everyone is represented and that they have a voice. We have tried to replicate the structure of the National Staff Engagement Forum and get all grades involved. We felt it very important to have all staff represented from the frontline staff, managers, business support and administrative staff.”

Themes which have emerged at Forum meetings include health and safety, staff well-being and staff morale, a need for more team meetings, information deficits, the need to take breaks during long shifts and getting a thank you for going the extra mile.

Suggestions have included inviting retirees to social events, more recognition for students when they graduate and more input into the design of staff uniforms.

Ray said: “There is an onus on every member of the Forum to be vocal and for the Forum to report back to senior management and for management to identify what can or what cannot be changed. We also realise that there is not going to be a quick answer to everything.

“People on the road should identify issues, present them to management, and be part of the improvement process. Management should be willing to accept advice and the involvement of staff in frontline problems. Frontline staff are well placed to identify issues and suggest solutions. A manager may not have the answer but together with his or her staff they may come up with the answer. Managers need to be strong enough to go to staff and talk directly to them if there are issues.”