Delays in handing over patients to emergency departments are holding up ambulances, with turnaround times in Cork of particular concern.
The National Ambulance Service aims for a 20-minute turnaround, but the vast majority of ambulances coming into Cork University Hospital do not hit this target.
Ambulances that should be available to respond to emergency calls are tied up at the hospital as they hand over patients.
Cork South Central TD, Michael McGrath (FF), raised this issue in the Dáil earlier this month. He said that just 11.8% of ambulance calls at CUH were cleared in less than 20 minutes in February.
The figures for March are worse. Of the 1,143 ambulances to go to CUH in March, just 127 — or 11.1% — achieved the 20-minute turnaround target.
Data released by the HSE shows that in one instance, an ambulance at CUH took between four and five hours to turnaround.
The majority of cases, (1,027 calls, representing 89.9% of the total) took an hour or less.
In 110 instances, the turnaround took between one and two hours, in four cases it took between two and three hours, and in one case the ambulance was tied up at CUH for between three and four hours.
Health Minister Simon Harris conceded that at a number of hospitals — CUH included — “the emergency departments are particularly busy and this can contribute significantly to delays in ambulance turnaround.
“When the emergency care system is under pressure, there is the potential for delay in the transfer of care of patients from ambulance to emergency department personnel,” he said.
“If we are serious about reducing the turnaround times, it means that we need to reduce the length of time people are spending in our emergency departments.
“We still have a long way to go, in this regard, and I look forward to talking to the INMO about recruitment of more nurses.
“We have ambitious plans in place to hire 1,208 new nurses this year, and have a number of incentives to try and assist in that regard, because it is very much interlinked with the ability of an ambulance to get in safely, hand over the patient, and get back to doing exactly what we want them to do.”
The minister also said a framework has been developed “to create a standardised approach between the National Ambulance Service and acute hospital emergency departments, which allows all parties to understand their role in the timely release of ambulance resources from acute hospitals.”
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