Ambulance plans criticised as ‘unworkable and dangerous’

A GP representative body has described a key part of HSE plans to reconfigure the ambulance service in West Cork as “dangerous and unworkable”.

Dr Gerard O’Shaughnessy, a member of the West Cork Faculty of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said his colleagues believe the HSE’s proposals to cut the number of ambulances from four to three are “flawed and fraught with danger”.

“We’ve always considered that we had a basic ambulance service here,” he said.

“We’re not asking for anything spectacular. We don’t expect to have the same response times as in the city or urban areas — you can’t expect that.

“But when you have a certain level of service, you want to make it as good as we can make it.”

He has now written on behalf of the faculty to politicians across the region asking them to press the HSE to maintain four ambulances in West Cork, introduce the on-duty system for paramedics, and test it over a long period.

The HSE wants to move from an on-call to an on-duty system for paramedics in Cork and Kerry. It also plans to reduce the number of ambulances in the region from four to three, replacing the fourth with a rapid response vehicle which cannot transport patients.

The GPs and campaigners fighting to retain the ambulance service support the move to on-duty.

Dr O’Shaughnessy said the cut in ambulances was of huge concern.

“The geographical area covered by the four ambulances ranges from Kinsale in the east to the Beara and Mizen peninsulas and the islands in the west,” he said.

“In between is a huge geographical land mass including several large towns and villages... and the populated islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin, Heir, Long, Whiddy Island, and Bere Island.

“The population here is over 80,000 and this number increases significantly in summer by up to 30%. The HSE proposal as outlined is, we consider, both dangerous and unworkable in an area of this magnitude and diversity, and with the poor road network.”

He said it has long been the experience of GPs that waiting and response times for ambulances are excessive and do not meet best practice guidelines. “The proposed removal of one of an ambulances can only make this situation worse.”

Ger Reaney, HSE area network manager, said he was surprised by the group’s stance. “We met the GPs in Aug 2011 and outlined our plans and their reaction was that while they had concerns, they would work with us on implementing the plans to ensure that their concerns were addressed.”

He said the HSE was due to meet with the GPs soon to update them. “But before any changes, there will be full engagement with GPs to address any specific concerns they have. The objective… is to eliminate the reliance on the on-call arrangements, thereby improving patient safety and response times.”



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