The minister for health is being called upon to publish immediately the Capacity Review Report on the ambulance service, amid claims that the service is crumbling and putting lives at risk in Co Cork.
For once, amid the general election battle, all parties put aside their differences to support a motion from Michael Collins (Independent) to have the yet- unpublished report made public.
He said morale was at an all-time low in the county’s ambulance service, as resources were so poor and services overstretched.
Those staff remaining, he said, worked far too many hours and several were so stressed that they were leaving for other jobs.
“More and more, West Cork ambulances are having to look after Cork City and Tralee.
“There are many times ambulance staff can’t even stop to eat because they are so under pressure,” said Mr Collins.
He also said that the supposed back-up from SouthDoc wasn’t filling the gap.
Kevin Conway (Independent) said he had first-hand experience of problems with the ambulance service last April.
He said he was a patient at Galway University Hospital at the time and had to be transferred to Cork University Hospital.
“The ambulance came from Dublin to pick me up in Galway and take me to Cork.
“After dropping me (at CUH) the driver and his colleague then had to go to Tralee to pick up another patient and bring them back to Dublin.
“They were exhausted,” Mr Conway said, adding that there had to be health and safety issues concerning the hours these people were working.
Paul Hayes (Sinn Féin) said ambulance drivers in West Cork were not only contending with long working hours.
“There’s huge mileage on the vehicles they’re using,” he said.
“The ambulance in Skibbereen has 500,000km on it. The one on Clonakilty is not two years old yet and it’s clocked up 200,000km.”
Mr Hayes said huge distances were involved in dealing with emergency cases in West Cork.
“It takes drivers one and a half hours under blue lights to drive from Castletownbere to Cork,” Mr Hayes said.
He also claimed that the entry level salary for paramedics was €25,000 a year — less than somebody might get for working at supermarket chain Lidl.
“It’s no wonder huge frustration built up (in the local ambulance service). There needs to be proper investment for these people,” said Mr Hayes.
Youghal-based councillor Mary Linehan-Foley (Independent) said there were no ambulances permanently stationed in Cobh or Midleton — two of the most densely populated areas in East Cork.
She said she had tried to bring this issue up at the last HSE (South) Forum but had got nowhere because officials said they couldn’t comment until the report was officially released.
“This is very frustrating when people’s lives are at risk.
“We need answers to this and we need them now,” Ms Linehan-Foley said.
Mayor of County Cork John Paul O’Shea (Independent) said he was sure that the so-far unreleased report would highlight the need for additional ambulance staff and vehicles, and he fully supported the call to get it published as soon as possible.
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