Ambulance crews appeal for ‘capacity review’

Ambulance crews have called for an independent “capacity review” of the service’s equipment and personnel levels over fears chronic gaps in the system are causing needless patient deaths.

Siptu issued the plea for action to the HSE, the Health Information Quality Authority and State body the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council during a heated discussion yesterday.

At a four-hour Oireachtas health committee meeting organised after a spate of high-profile deaths linked to ambulance delays, the leading union told politicians resources mean the system cannot meet demand.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said it is his belief Hiqa’s target time of seven minutes and 59 seconds for ambulances to reach seriously ill patients — which is only reached in 85% of cases — will never be met unless the HSE accepts the service is under-resourced.

He said the issue will only be adequately addressed if a “fully independent capacity review” headed up by a group outside of Ireland takes place to highlight genuine flaws in the system.

The committee had earlier heard further serious concerns from the National Ambulance Service Representative Association’s chairman, Michael Dixon.

Noting the fact “we are dealing with patients lives here”, he said the HSE is aware of numerous cases where ambulance personnel who were unable to get to “very tragic” call-outs in time for reasons outside their control have suffered significant “psychological” difficulties.

Mr Dixon — whose group raised similar concerns last month — said while Scotland’s 3.5m population is served by 5,400 ambulance staff with a €258m budget, Ireland’s 4.6m population has a 1,600 workforce and €137.4m of funds.

The family of Wayne McQuillan, 30, who tragically died when a garda car had to rush him to hospital when he was stabbed on New Year’s Eve after an ambulance failed to arrive for 25 minutes, was in the public gallery and heard further concerns during the debate.

These included fears ambulances are not able to leave hospitals for “up to 16 hours in some cases” because patients brought to emergency departments have not been seen by doctors — meaning the crews are still legally responsible for their care.

However, the HSE’s chief operating officer and deputy director general, Laverne McGuinness, strongly refuted the claims, saying progress was being made.

She said the service was getting closer to meeting target times for emergency call-outs.


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