They say emergency services are stretched to breaking point, with just 16 emergency ambulances available to cover the million-plus population of the greater Dublin region during the critical hours of midnight to 8am.
Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB), which operates 11 ambulances and is contracted to provide emergency ambulance services to the capital, has not seen an increase in ambulances in 18 years despite a fourfold increase in call-outs, SIPTU representative Tony McDonnell said.
"If the nurses are under tremendous pressure then we are under tremendous pressure because we are the people bringing people in to them," he added.
He said three ambulance crews had to treat patients in hospital car parks on Monday because of a lack of room in A&E departments.
He said: "The bottom line is lives are at risk because the DFB in 2003 cannot meet the requirements asked of it. We had 28,000 calls in 1985 and we are now dealing with close on 100,000 calls annually with the same number of staff and ambulances."
Freedom of Information records from the East Coast Area Health Board show 21 health board ambulances that can respond to emergency calls in Dublin. However, during the critical night shift no more than five are rostered for duty, leaving just 16 ambulances to cover the greater Dublin region. Also, European regulations mean each ambulance can only treat one patient whereas previously an ambulance was equipped to take two casualties.
Mr McDonnell said: "In the event of two buses colliding, where people need to be treated for spinal injuries, the most we can treat is 11. And that's only on the basis that we have all those ambulances available However, Eastern Regional Ambulance Service chief ambulance officer Pat McCreanor rejected any suggestion the service was overstretched. He said: "If there are any extra ambulances required, extra ambulances will be provided. I do not see any place where lives are being put at risk."
He said a 1997 study found the
eastern region had the fastest ambulance response time of all health board regions.
Mr McCreanor said emergency plans were in place to deal with major incidents such as a serious bus collision: Two buses would stretch any ambulance service throughout the country and that's why we have the major emergency plans."