Michael Dickson, chairman of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, spoke out yesterday after claims that there was no ambulance available to take little Vakaris Marinaitis, who was badly injured after falling from an upstairs window at his home in East Cork, to hospital.
A neighbour of the boy, former Cork hurling star Kevin Hennessy, rushed the toddler and his father, Vidas, to Cork University Hospital, where Vakaris died on Wednesday.
The HSE declined to comment on reports that the 999 operator was not told the little boy had fallen from a window.
A spokesperson said they have asked the National Ambulance Service for a full review of all the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Health Minister James Reilly said he has also requested a full report on the incident.
“It’s a terrible tragedy that any child would die, and it’s a terrible loss for the family,” he said.
“We will investigate this because we want safe services, and as I say, ambulances are a critical part of our health service in terms of dealing with emergencies, and also in transferring patients who are deteriorating, from one of the smaller hospitals to a larger hospital, where more complex care can be given. So I’ll be asking for a full report on this.”
But it also emerged yesterday that it took 53 minutes for an ambulance to get to an assault victim in Youghal, Co Cork, on Monday.
Last month, a garda sergeant in Co Meath had to drive an ambulance with an injured child because of a shortage of paramedic staff. A similar incident occurred in Co Donegal last December.
Mr Dickson said problems with ambulance cover is a national issue.
“This kind of thing is happening nationally and all the time,” he said.
“The reconfiguration of the ambulance service is a cost-saving measure being implemented by Government and the National Ambulance Service [NAS].
“Our job is about saving lives. We’re not interested in the finances or economics of it.
“We know you can’t have an ambulance on every street corner. But what we can have, where we have populated areas, is a decent ambulance service.
“The general public are under the impression that they dial 999 or 112 and request an ambulance for whatever emergency
“The onus is on the Government and the NAS to provide that service but they are cutting back and back, everything’s been cut back to the bone.
“It’s been cut back so far that we are playing Russian roulette with peoples’ lives.”
He called for an independent review of the reconfigured ambulance service.
Junior minister Sean Sherlock said he was “very concerned” at the incidents in East Cork and said the HSE had questions to answer about its roll-out of pre-hospital emergency care in the area.
“When they were planning the new ambulance structures in the East Cork region, cast-iron guarantees were given that the response times for incidents would be in line with the Hiqa guidelines,” he said.
“An eight-minute response time was promised; the incidents reported this week reflect that this is certainly not the reality of the service that is currently in place.”
He has requested meetings with both the HSE and Hiqa to discuss the issues.