War of words over ambulance coverage

The HSE has rejected claims that one of Cork’s busiest 999 ambulance bases has no emergency ambulance cover because of staff sick leave.

A HSE spokesperson said Skibbereen ambulance station had the full support of all paramedics in West Cork while it was short-staffed.

However, campaigners in the West Cork SOS group — which is fighting HSE plans to reconfigure the region’s ambulance service — accused the HSE of “playing with words”.

Group spokesman Cllr Frank Fahy raised concerns yesterday that Skibbereen had no ambulance based in the town for 24 hours on Monday.

He said a key member of staff was on extended sick leave and accused the HSE of refusing to pay overtime for replacement cover. Mr Fahy said that because this paramedic — one of two who staff an ambulance — was out, the remaining staff member could not deliver standard ambulance cover.

This left the town without an ambulance for 24 hours on Monday, he claimed.

He said the staffing crisis would leave the town in a similar situation this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“This is the second busiest 999 station in West Cork and for the sake of a couple of hundred euro a day, the HSE won’t pay the overtime. They have paid overtime in such circumstances in Bantry, Clonakilty, and Castletownbere ambulance stations. Why is Skibbereen being treated differently?”

The HSE insisted that Skibbereen had ambulance cover on Monday.

“An ambulance is staffed by paramedics working in pairs and, while a shift for one paramedic on sick leave in Skibbereen could not be covered, the other paramedic on the team is on duty and is available to respond to emergency calls,” said a HSE spokesman.

“While a single paramedic cannot transport a patient to hospital, any patient requiring transport will be accommodated by paramedic colleagues from the adjoining stations in Clonakilty, Bantry, and Castletownbere. An advanced paramedic in a rapid response vehicle is also based in the West Cork area.”

He said that under HSE policy all ambulance stations across the county supported each other, meaning “the nearest available ambulance responds to an emergency call, regardless of where they are based”.

“This also applies to an area that may be temporarily without cover while an ambulance is out of the area transporting a patient to hospital.”

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