Ambulance transport service hit by cutbacks

CLOSE to 600 patients in need of life-saving cancer and dialysis treatment face no longer being ferried to and from treatment by ambulance due to cutbacks in patient transport services.

Bill Forbes, assistant chief ambulance officer in the Health Service Executive (HSE) West, has written to a number of hospital managers warning the service will be withdrawn from July 1.

According to Mr Forbes, the Ambulance Service Transport Budget for 2011 has been spent, including expenditure on dialysis and cancer care services.

He wrote: “The decision has been made we will no longer be in a position to finance any patient transport for any of these services... within the western area with effect from July 1, 2011.”

He said the ambulance service had written to John Hennessy, HSE West regional director of operations, outlining its position and that ambulance service managers “are now outlining this position to the relevant hospital managers who will need to inform their respective disciplines of dialysis and cancer care services”.

Mr Forbes said the final bookings would be made for patients travelling to dialysis clinics up to and including June 30, and that cancer care patients to whom they had given a commitment to provide transport would also be catered for up to the agreed date.

In response, the HSE said like all its services, the ambulance service “must remain within its overall budget allocation” and “therefore, it is now necessary to review the level and type of patient transport service provided”.

It said the ambulance service must “prioritise its resources to respond to emergency calls in the first instance”.

Sinn Féin health spokes-man Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the axing of the service was “appalling”.

“Hundreds of patients are to be denied access to ambulance transport to and from vital dialysis treatment and cancer treatments across a huge swathe of the country,” Mr Ó Caoláin said.

He also criticised the HSE for describing the curtailment of services as a “review” given the process of ending the service has already commenced.

“Not for the first time, the word ‘review’ is being used as a smokescreen for what is a savage cut.”

Calling for a reversal of the decision, Mr Ó Caoláin said Health Minister James Reilly “must show much more activity and diligence in addressing the crisis in our increasingly chaotic public health services”.

The HSE said its ambulance service currently provides transport to 456 dialysis patients to attend treatment three times a week at a range of hospitals including the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, Mayo General Hospital, Galway University Hospitals, Sligo General Hospital and Letterkenny General Hospital.

Patient transport for cancer patients is also provided by the ambulance service to 125 patients in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

A separate HSE spokesman said a decision will not be made until the end of the month.

More in this section