Sinn Féin health spokesperson Caoimghín Ó Caoláin told the Dáil health committee what had happened, saying it was “no longer good enough” to stay quiet.
Speaking at the latest meeting of the cross-party group, the Cavan-Monaghan TD spoke publicly for the first time about the three incidences in which his family had tried to avail of ambulance services.
He said his brother-in-law, who was in his 50s, died in December from a heart attack. Meanwhile, in January, Mr Ó Caoláin suffered a heart attack at his GP’s office, while 10 days ago, his elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s, needed emergency ambulance care for an unspecified issue.
The opposition TD said ambulance bases were located one mile away in Monaghan town, 15 miles away in Castleblaney, and 30 miles away at Cavan hospital from the incidents in question.
However, in each case, service gaps meant life-saving vehicles had to be sent from Virginia, 45 miles away.
“At my GP last January, I had a heart attack, and they were incredulous [at the delay].
“This is replicated across the country. I don’t accept this is about a geographic location or anything else.
“What is happening is intolerable. It is off the Richter scale. When we lost emergency department service at Monaghan general [under then health minister Mary Harney in 2006], we were assured we would have a world-class ambulance service. We are not within an ass’s roar of it,” he said.
The anger was also felt by fellow committee members, with Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke and Labour TD Ciara Conway repeating Hiqa concerns that people had been “slotted” into management roles for which they were not qualified.
Committee chair and Fine Gael TD, Jerry Buttimer said the HSE, national ambulance service and Dublin fire brigade would be brought in to discuss the concerns.
Almost one in every five life-saving ambulances is at least eight-years-old and in danger of breaking down.
The Hiqa report into the over-stretched service has found that of 266 ambulances, 47 have been in use for eight years or more. However, despite national ambulance service standards saying any vehicle should be replaced after seven years, they remain in use — with all having more than 400,000km on the clock.
While HSE ambulances are replaced when they have travelled 500,000km, for garda vehicles the limit is 100,000km.
The report also found while the HSE provides information on whether ambulances are meeting target call-out times — which they repeatedly miss — it does not conduct a “clinical audit” to explain what happens to the patient when delays take place.
It further said that three areas in the country — Tuam in Co Galway, Mulranny in Co Mayo, and Loughglynn in Co Roscommon — are effectively ambulance “black spots” due to poor planning, an issue it said must be immediately addressed in a HSE capacity review due before Christmas.