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LCQ3: Meal break of frontline ambulancemen

     Following is a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by Hon Mrs Regina Ip in the Legislative Council today (July 2):


     The Hong Kong Fire Services Department Ambulancemenˇ¦s Union (the Union) has relayed to me that the frontline ambulancemen have a meal break of thirty minutes only, which is often interrupted by service calls.  If ambulancemen are called out during the designated meal break periods before they have taken a continuous 30-minute meal break, they may be compensated with another 30-minute meal break afterwards (compensatory meal break).  However, to ensure that the provision of service will not be affected, the Fire Services Department (FSD) has set quotas for two periods of time, i.e. from 1 pm to 2 pm and 3 am to 4:30 am, to restrict the number of ambulancemen taking compensatory meal breaks during these periods.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that at present, some ambulancemen may have meal breaks within the designated three-hour period, of the operational details of such an arrangement, including ways to ensure that the meal breaks of ambulancemen will not be interrupted by service calls;

(2) as some ambulancemen have pointed out that the present quotas for compensatory meal breaks are inadequate, with the result that some ambulancemen need to unduly defer their meal breaks or even give up applying for compensatory meal breaks, and such a situation will deal a blow to the morale of ambulancemen and jeopardize their health in the long run, whether FSD will make improvements to the arrangements for compensatory meal breaks; if it will, of its specific proposals; and

(3) whether it will consider increasing the number of ambulance depots and ambulancemen manpower in those operational regions with higher turnout rates, in order to improve the situations that meal breaks of ambulancemen are often interrupted and the quotas for compensatory meal breaks are insufficient; whether the Government will consider the proposal put forward by the Union of setting up a round-the-clock on-call special support team in each operational region, so that there will be additional resources of ambulances and ambulancemen to cope with the service demand when certain ambulance depot is unable to deal with the emergency calls within its service area; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     As in the cases of many other disciplined services staff, the scheduled meal breaks of frontline ambulancemen of the Fire Services Department (FSD) may be interrupted because of the need to discharge emergency duties.  In ensuring the provision of emergency ambulance services to the public at all times, FSD also has to make reasonable meal break arrangements for its frontline staff.  To this end, FSD been maintaining discussions with its frontline staff and made efforts to adopt measures to improve the arrangements progressively where operationally practicable and resources permit, with a view to striking a balance between the provision of emergency ambulance services and the safeguarding of the welfare of the ambulancemen.  

     My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) The designated meal break period are either 11:00 am to 1:00 pm, or 11:30 am to 1:30 pm for FSD's ambulancemen on day shift.  As regards ambulancemen on night shifts, the designated meal break period is between midnight and 3:00 am.

     Ambulancemen may take turns to have meals during the above designated meal break periods.  The Fire Services Communication Centre also accords a lower dispatch priority to ambulancemen not having taken their meals so as to facilitate them to have meals.  If ambulancemen are called out during the designated period before they have taken a continuous 30-minute meal break, they may be compensated with another 30-minute meal break within that period.  If such a meal break is interrupted again owing to the need to attend to service calls, they may take a 30-minute compensatory meal break after the designated period, during which they will be free from attending to ambulance calls.  To ensure that the provision of service will not be affected, FSD has introduced a quota system for compensatory meal breaks from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm for day-shift ambulances and from 3:00 am to 4:30 am for night-shift ambulances to guard against the unavailability of a large number of ambulancemen to attend to service calls at the same time because of their need to take meals.  The quota system is not applicable to other periods of time.

(2) With the implementation of measures in recent years, there has been considerable improvement in the meal break arrangements for ambulancemen. The percentage of day-shift ambulancemen having a continuous meal break of at least 30 minutes in the designated period has increased from 76% in 2009 to 85% (note) in 2013.  The percentage of ambulancemen who were unable to have a meal break during the designated period and thus having a compensatory meal break after the period has also dropped from about 20% in 2009 to some 10% in 2013.  In 2013, 95% of ambulancemen on night-shift were able to have meal break during the designated period, with only 2% of ambulancemen using the quota of the compensatory meal break.

     To further improve the meal break arrangement for the ambulancemen, FSD has launched a six-month trial scheme on July 1 this year to increase the quota for compensatory meal breaks of day-shift ambulancemen and allow for a lower dispatch priority for those who are not allocated with a compensatory meal break quota by using the relevant code.  In addition, FSD is designing a computer system to collect detailed data on the actual duration of meal break taken by individual ambulance crews in the designated period, with a view to achieving more effective deployment of manpower and further enhancing the meal break arrangements.

(3) From the year 2008-09 to 2013-14, the establishment of the Ambulance Stream had increased by some 16%, i.e. 373 members of the Ambulanceman grade.  The number of ambulance calls increased by some 10% from 2008 to 2013.  The average number of ambulance calls handled by each ambulance dropped from 2,490 in 2008 to 2,227 in 2013, representing a decrease of approximately 11%.  The response time performance also improved from 92.2% in 2008 to 94.4% in 2013.  In 2014-15, FSD will create 61 Ambulanceman posts to cope with the increase in demand for ambulance service.

     To provide better support for frontline ambulancemen, FSD established the Special Support Unit (SSU) in early April this year, with 24 ambulance staff members deployed at Kowloon East and New Territories South to enhance the efficiency of emergency ambulance services and handle potential high-risk incidents to cope with the demand arising from festive occasions and major incidents.  It also helps to meet service demand during peak periods.  

     FSD will continue to closely monitor the changes in demand for emergency ambulance service in various districts, and seeks additional ambulance resource timely and deploy them flexibly to improve the services.

Note: It includes those having a continuous 30-minute meal break for their first meal and those with their first meal interrupted but subsequently having another continuous 30-minute meal break.

Ends/Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:48


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