Town pleads with HSE to ensure adequate ambulance cover

A Co Cork town rocked by the second death of a child in two months has pleaded with the Government and the HSE to review the region’s ambulance cover.

Vakaris Martinaitis died in Cork University Hospital (CUH) on Wednesday — just days before his second birthday — from injuries sustained in a fall from an upstairs window at his home in Midleton.

Neighbour Kevin Hennessy, who rang emergency services, claims he was told there was no ambulance in the area at the time. He drove Vakaris, under Garda escort, to CUH.

“Where are we going in this day and age where you can’t get an ambulance for a two-year-old child who’s had an accident? This poor boy could be alive still today if there had been an ambulance there. I know they [the HSE] have problems, lack of money, and resources, but where are we going?” he asked yesterday.

Another recent tragic accident involving a child in Midleton focused the spotlight on ambulance response times nine months on from the reconfiguration of the region’s ambulance service.

Youghal, Midleton, and Fermoy are now covered 24/7 by two emergency ambulances, on dynamic deployment where they are needed, and a rapid response vehicle, from a base at Youghal Hospital. In March, the HSE had to reject false claims that it took 45 minutes for an ambulance to respond to a drowning incident on the town’s Owenacurra river involving 7-year-old James Casey Butler.

The HSE said an advance paramedic was on the scene within seven minutes and an ambulance arrived 19 minutes after James had fallen into the river. He was transferred to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin but died a day later.

Muriel McCann, a grandmother of 16 whose daughter lives near the Martinaitis family, said the Government must prioritise resources to ensure East Cork has a proper ambulance service.

“This was such a tragedy. We are all so very sorry for the family involved.

“The Government can leave other things aside but ambulances are a priority. The situation now is that a person could be dead by the time an ambulance gets there. There should be an ambulance based in a town the size of Midleton.”

More than 12,000 people live in the town. Local councillor Pat Buckley, who spoke out about the issue after the March incident, said: “The system was supposed to improve after reconfiguration but it has not improved.

“There is an incredible sense of anger in Midleton about this. One death is enough but two is shocking. Are they going to wait until somebody else dies?”

Local Sinn Féin TD Sandra McLellan said Health Minister James Reilly must act.

“It is clear from these two incidents that there are fundamental problems when it comes to response time, rostering, and gaps in the overall service.

“One wonders how many tragedies have to happen before the minister concedes that his drive to restructure the ambulance service is not working and that children are being put at risk as a result of bad policy decisions that are rooted in a desire to save money.”

Staff issues

- April: A garda had to drive an ambulance with an injured child on board because of a shortage of paramedic staff.

The garda was forced to take the wheel so the ambulance’s only paramedic could attend the patient in the back of the vehicle.

The incident occurred near Dunsany, Co Meath, when a car containing three children and a woman veered off the road, hitting a tree.

One of the four ambulances attending the scene was manned by one paramedic as the other member had gone home ill and there was nobody to cover his shift.

- December: A garda had to drive an ambulance in Donegal while the paramedic treated a patient in the back.

Again, there was just one crew member because the other member had become ill and was not replaced.

An ambulance had been called after a man was knocked down at a junction just 200m from Letterkenny Hospital.

One of the gardaí who arrived on the scene drove the ambulance to the hospital while the paramedic attended to the injured man.

- November: A mother had to drive her unconscious child to hospital in Co Donegal while a ambulance man tended to him in the back seat of a car.

The mother had called emergency services for an ambulance but there was only one paramedic on duty because the other had phoned in sick.

The paramedic called for an other ambulance after seeing the child was unconscious and was told the nearest was 45 minutes away.

He asked the woman to drive to the hospital so he could tend to her child in the back seat.

The child recovered after being treated in hospital.

The HSE has pointed out that members of the emergency services on the scene of an accident, including the gardaí, are authorised by the health authority to drive ambulances.

— Evelyn Ring

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