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Almost 1-in-4 responses to 'life-threatening' 999 calls not meeting HIQA targets

In 65 per cent of cases, ambulances aren’t arriving at the scene within the 19 minute response time set-out by the health watchdog.
Jul 16th 2013, 7:30 AM 5,436 32

THE AMBULANCE SERVICE is failing to meet HIQA standards for response times for almost one out of every four ‘life threatening’ or ‘potentially life-threatening’ emergency calls.

Standards set out by the health watchdog body state that an ambulance should be at the scene in under 19 minutes in 85 per cent of all such cases. However, figures released by the Department of Health show that just 65 per cent of dispatches are arriving within that time limit.

Figures covering the first three months of 2013 were released following a request from independent TD Denis Naughten, who lost the Fine Gael party whip after he voted against the Government’s decision to close the emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital two years ago.

Minister for Health James Reilly stated earlier this year that national targets for response times are to be abandoned, and that alternative methods of evaluating the ambulance service are to be formulated instead.

The minister expands further on those plans in his answer to Deputy Naughten, stating that “57 action points for improvement” are being worked through by local managers, including such areas as:

  • Faster mobilization times for crews
  • Processes around call taking and dispatch
  • Engagement with and development of Community First Responder Schemes

Naughten, however, is criticising the minister’s decision to move away from the HIQA standards, saying:

Because the HSE has failed so dismally to achieve the HIQA standards they are now moving away from such a measure of the effectiveness of the ambulance service yet the clear experience in other jurisdictions indicates that introducing response-time indicators and targets drives quality and improvement in ambulance services.

And the Roscommon-South Leitrim TDs says the issue of response times is intrinsically linked to the closure of smaller emergency departments:

Sadly those without access to an A&E have to wait longest to get vital treatment. It is bizarre that the HSE is very quick to achieve HIQA standards when it can be used as a cost-saving mechanism to close or downgrade a service.

Life-threatening or potentially life threatening calls account for around 40 per cent of all 999 emergency calls in Ireland, according to HSE figures.

Read: National targets for ambulance response times to be abandoned >

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Daragh Brophy

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