Seven-year-old James Casey Butler fell into the Owenacurra river in Midleton, Co Cork, on Saturday while playing with friends. He was swept about 275m downstream and was in the water for several minutes. He died at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin on Sunday after being transferred from Cork.
The HSE also rejected as incorrect reports that the ambulance which attended the scene had travelled from Fermoy. An advance paramedic was on the scene within seven minutes and an ambulance arrived 19 minutes after James had fallen into the river, the HSE said.
A HSE spokesman said the National Ambulance Service control centre was notified of an emergency call at 6.40pm. The nearest emergency ambulance was leaving Cork University Hospital at the time. It was allocated the call and arrived at the scene in Midleton at 6.59pm.
In the meantime, “first responder” text alerts had been sent out by ambulance control. First responders are people trained in basic life support skills who are called on by ambulance control to respond to particular emergencies. The local first responder, also an off-duty HSE advanced paramedic, arrived to aid the boy at 6.47pm.
In the aftermath of the incident, there was also criticism locally that Midleton no longer had a permanent ambulance. However, the HSE dismissed that criticism. “Emergency ambulances in East Cork are strategically deployed. Ambulances are no longer static and assigned to an ambulance station but are rather deployed where they are most likely to be required,” said a spokesman.
Health Minister James Reilly has asked for a report on the circumstances surrounding the death. Dr Reilly said the report would be compiled by Cork University Hospital.
“While I await a full report, the first thing I want to do is empathise with the family on their terrible tragic loss. The last thing any parent wants to do is to be at their child’s funeral,” he said.
He reiterated the response times given by the HSE. On the availability of ambulances, he said: “You can’t have ambulances in every single town in Ireland. That is just not feasible. We don’t have the resources to do that. What we want to do is have a system in place where we have access to immediate care as quickly as possible and I think the terrible tragedy in Midleton [on Saturday] shows that is the case.”
Cork County Council said the housing estate was privately owned and unfinished and that the authority did not put up the fence. Neither does it have any control or ownership of the riverbank. The receiver for the developer said it was engaging with authorities.
Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said he was deeply saddened by the tragedy. “My heart goes out to all concerned: to the parents of James, to his extended family, relatives, friends and to the community of Midleton parish.”
The HSE has offered support and counselling to those affected.