Several departments of the National First Aid Center (EKAB) have serious staff shortages as a result of poor planning in expanding the center, a problem that will soon be rectified through the recruitment of new personnel by June. On the Cycladic Islands the problems are particularly acute as plans to recruit paramedics have not been adequately implemented, with the result that current staff cannot properly carry out their duties. Over the past two years EKAB’s management has begun efforts to boost manpower. In fact, all new EKAB departments are sufficiently staffed so that ambulances are always at the ready to respond to calls. Since last September, new departments have opened in Kozani, Grevena, Kastoria, Florina, Drama and Evrytania. When the new staff have been hired by June, departments are to open in Xanthi and on the island of Samos. In addition, the new personnel will also be appointed to services in Halkidiki and the island of Evia. «Traditionally there have been two ways of expanding the service. One was to hire one or two paramedics who, along with the ambulance drivers, would cover needs until the next staff recruitment. However, the way things operate in Greece, that did not work as there were long delays in recruiting new staff through the Supreme Council for Personnel Selection (ASEP),» said EKAB’s CEO Nikos Papaevstathiou. He said the biggest mistake had been made in the Cyclades. «One paramedic was hired on Naxos, on Ios, Paros, Myconos and Milos, and two on Andros. The next jobs were not advertized until two years later. Under the new system, EKAB departments are enlarged more slowly but more carefully. For an ambulance to be available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 15 people are required: 11 drivers and paramedics and four people to staff the phone center,» he explained. «For the new departments, we have recruited 11 paramedics and are working closely with other health units in the region to cover the phones. When the new positions are filled (for 172 people), we will be able to function fully.» Meanwhile, EKAB has also asked the Health Ministry for a further 250 job positions within the year. At the moment, EKAB employs 3,500 people, 1,000 of whom have been hired since 2004. «We will need another 500 ambulance drivers and paramedics this year to ensure that even the most isolated departments have a second ambulance, and enable a reduction in the waiting time for emergencies to below 10 minutes in Athens and Thessaloniki.» Abuse of the system to avoid waiting Three in 10 calls for ambulances to take patients to Athens hospitals are not for true emergencies. This is because of the practice adopted by some Greeks of calling ambulances in order to jump queues at hospital outpatient departments. Unfortunately, according to Papaevstathiou, Greeks abuse the ambulance service. Of the 1,000-1,200 calls EKAB receives each day, 700 are declared to be emergencies but about 30-35 percent of these patients walk out of the hospital after being examined. «We have even seen a case where someone, on seeing the queue at outpatients, went to a nearby kiosk and called EKAB to report that he had quite a different ailment from what he was actually suffering from, just so that he could get straight in to see a doctor,» said Papaevstathiou. This abuse has taken its toll on the ambulances themselves. Even vehicles purchased for the Olympic Games in 2004 had clocked up 300,000 to 400,000 kilometers by the end of 2006.