Union warning on ambulance safety fears

A LEADING doctors’ union has warned the HSE of safety standard concerns over some private ambulances used to plug health service gaps, just months after a confidential report identified glaring problems in the sector.

In the Irish Hospital Consultants Association’s (IHCA’s) national council annual report, the senior doctors’ representative group confirmed it had recently met with one operator within the sector about the issue.

This individual, the document noted, “advised the association of concerns regarding the standard of private ambulances being hired by the HSE from time to time”.

The IHCA responded that it “is aware of instances where local managers have hired private ambulances that are not appropriately staffed” – an issue that could lead to potential serious consequences for patients using the vehicles.

The group’s assistant secretary general Donal Duffy said the statement was not confined solely to a specific incident or company whose equipment is being used.

However, in a clear message to the HSE the IHCA document emphasised that if any patient safety problem does occur as a result of private ambulance shortcomings, health service management and not the doctors who allowed the patient into the vehicle would be ultimately responsible.

“It is not a matter for consultants to arrange the hire of any private ambulance.

“Members are advised to formally notify the hospital management that should they use an ambulance that is not of a correct standard they must accept the full responsibility for the consequences,” it stated.

The comments were made after a confidential HSE report in April found that several private ambulance firms are failing to meet training and security standards set by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC).

According to the leaked document, two out of seven private ambulance firms inspected took on staff before their security clearance was in place, while inadequate security paperwork was apparent in other firms.

In particular, two of the private ambulance companies involved were urged to “follow up on Garda vetting”.

Just one of the seven firms examined had checks in place to ensure their workers were competent in English, while three of the companies appeared to employ staff who did not hold certificates or retention training in cardiac first response.

Shortcomings were also revealed in patient confidentiality when handling patient care reports.

The PHECC was set up in 2001 to ensure standards in the pre-hospital care sector.

Among its requirements are that all ambulance staff are registered, have security clearance, undergo regular re-training to keep up to date of improving practices and are able to speak English competently.

The private ambulance firms were not identified in the report.


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