People who fall ill suddenly in rural Kerry, north Mayo, west Clare and south-west Donegal are more than an hour’s drive from a hospital A&E, new research has revealed.
The healthcare blackspots have been identified on maps which flag up gaps in access to services across the island of Ireland.
Among the worst places to live or work for quick emergency access are Kilkee, Co Clare at 69 minutes and nearby Lisdoonvarna at 59 minutes, while Belmullet on the north-west coast is a 68 minute drive and Templemore, Tipperary 45 minutes.
Professor Rob Kitchin, NUI Maynooth, who drew up the mapping system, said it is as likely the figures will be used to dictate where cuts are made as to identify gaps in services.
“It’s probably more likely to be used for where you rationalise rather than where you look to invest or develop,” he said.
“You can look at the mapping and decide what you might rationalise. It goes both ways.”
Other regions with the worst records for travel time to emergency units staffed by a consultant include Monaghan, Omagh, Tipperary North, Leitrim and Roscommon.
The most startling differences showed access to 24 hour hospital A&E takes on average 21 minutes in the Republic but just 16 minutes in the North.
Prof Kitchin said many of the times – measured as one way car journeys at average speeds, adding 10% for congestion and three minutes for unforeseen delays – are already known by government departments.
The maps on airomaps.nuim.ie, and developed by NUI Maynooth’s National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (Nirsa) which carried out the first examination of ghost estates, detail hospitals, schools, train stops, airports based on travel times from areas of different populations.
Rail access reveals a huge swathe of the island running north-west from Dublin to Fermanagh and into Donegal is an hour away from a train line.
People in counties across most of Leinster enjoy easy access to health except for parts of Wicklow, in particular Arklow where the travel time is 43 minutes.
These figures compare to average 10 minute trips in city areas including Belfast, Cork, Galway, Waterford, Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown, Castlereagh, South Dublin and Coleraine.
In Dublin the average journey time to a 24 hour emergency hospital is eight minutes.
The study found local health services and facilities such as GPs, dentists and pharmacies are marginally more accessible in Northern Ireland.
Prof Kitchin, Nirsa director, said: “This new mapping system can facilitate evidence-based decision making, a significant advancement on the way planning has been conducted in the past.”
The study found that on average travel times to all services in the North are lower than in the Republic.
Regarding secondary schools, researchers found parts of west Mayo and the Iveragh peninsula in Kerry are some of the least accessible to schools on the island, with many areas being in excess of 30 minutes from the closest secondary school.
According to the map developed, the majority of the island is on average a seven-minute drive from the nearest secondary school.