The National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA) has warned that it is only a matter of time before an incident like this one, which happened last month, will seriously impact on a patient outcome.
NASRA secretary, Tony Gregg, said the Donegal incident is yet another example of the problems arising with the ageing and high mileage ambulance fleet: “The ambulance is a basic tool of the emergency services and it is unacceptable that some vehicles, with more than 450,000km on the clock and parts falling off, are still allowed on the road. It is time for significant investment by government to address the issue.”
Almost one in three ambulances in use in the HSE West is more than eight years old, most of which have more than 400,000km on the clock. This is despite the fact HSE rules state that any ambulance more than seven years old must be replaced for safety reasons.
While a HSE vehicle replacement system is ongoing — more than €18m is due to be spent in 2016 — the problems are unlikely to be resolved soon.
Mr Gregg said: “We have an ageing fleet and it doesn’t matter how many times you service a vehicle. If it’s 10 years old, it’s 10 years old and given the distances and terrain, the problems are exacerbated in rural counties like Donegal. There was much fanfare recently when the Government announced that 60 new ambulances were coming on stream but they’re simply replacing clapped-out vehicles which were already unsafe.”
Last year, four ambulances dispatched from Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) to emergency situations broke down, resulting in the need for other ambulances to be provided.
On August 26 last, two wheels fell off an ambulance while a patient was being brought from Letterkenny General Hospital to Galway University Hospital.
At a recent meeting of the Regional Health Forum West, chief officer, John Hayes, confirmed 31 ambulances operating in the region are eight or more years old; 29 have between 200,000 miles and 300,000 miles; a further 23 vehicles have between 300,000 miles and 400,000 miles; while 16 have more than 400,000 miles on their odometers.
“Under National Ambulance Service Fleet replacement Policy for 2016, over €18m will be invested under the HSE capital programme. Nationally, a total of 50 new vehicles and 35 remount vehicles [cab will be retained and new engine] will be introduced,” said Mr Hayes.
“By the end of 2016 the oldest vehicles in the West Area will be 2011 registrations — 16 from a fleet of 96. The age profile of remaining vehicles is 131 upwards. The expectation is there will be continued investment in a replacement program going forward to maintain the age profile of the vehicles.”