Dublin ambulance sent to emergency call in Cork

An ambulance stationed in Swords, Co Dublin, was dispatched to respond to an emergency call in Cork city last year, the Irish Examiner can reveal, writes Joe Leogue.

Figures released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act show more than a third of all vehicles that answered emergency calls to the National Ambulance Service (NAS) in Cork county were not based within the area where the emergency arose.

The NAS has divided Cork county among 12 stations: Cork City, East Cork, Fermoy, Mallow, Kanturk, Millstreet, Macroom, Bantry, Bantry/Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, and Castletownbere. Each station has its own ambulances or rapid response vehicles posted locally to attend to emergencies when they arise.

The NAS said that, in 2016, it received a total of 19,558 emergency calls from Co Cork, to which 22,879 vehicles attended.

However, 8,448 — or 37% of all units that responded to calls — were vehicles based in stations outside the area of the emergency.

In its response, the HSE said: “The fact that a resource is based in a particular location does not necessarily mean it travelled from that location to the incident.”

Figures released to the Irish Examiner reveal that last year show:

  • Vehicles stationed in Cashel, Kilkenny, Waterford City, Wexford Town, the Phoenix Park, and Swords, Co Dublin, were sent to emergency calls in Cork city;
  • 59 % of the vehicles that responded to emergency calls in the Millstreet region were based in other stations outside the area;
  • A vehicle based in Youghal in East Cork was sent to an emergency in the Bantry/Dunmanway region, over 100km away in West Cork;
  • Vehicles in Dooradoyle, Limerick, and Thurles, Tipperary, both answered calls in the Fermoy area;
  • One in four vehicles responding to emergency calls in Cork city were based in outside stations — the lowest proportion of outside response for all 12 Cork areas.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman and Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher described the figures as “astonishing”.

He said that it pointed to an ambulance service that lacks capacity where stations were “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in order to cover emergencies.

“People will be absolutely astonished that an ambulance was dispatched from north Dublin to Cork city,” Mr Kelleher said.

“However, given that over the weekend Cork City has just three emergency ambulances on duty, it’s no surprise,” he said.

Responding to queries from this newspaper, the HSE said the National Ambulance Service “is not a static service and operates on a national and area basis as opposed to a local basis”.

“NAS resources are deployed in a dynamic manner to areas to provide cover or to respond to incidents as they arise,” a spokesperson said. “It is important to note the National Emergency Operations Centre can identify the location of all NAS resources across the country and they can be allocated to incidents irrespective of their geographical base.”

In Cork there are 24 Community First Responder Groups linked to the NAS National Emergency Operations Centre.

“Their aim is to reach a potential life threatening emergency in the first vital minutes before the ambulance arrives,” the HSE said.

Mr Kelleher said figures outlining the number of vehicles posted in each station show why there is a dependence on other districts.

He said the high dependency in areas such as Bantry/Dunmanway, Kanturk, Macroom, and Millstreet comes as “no real surprise as there is never more than one ambulance on call from these stations”.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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