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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 22 January 2022

Ambulance drove 900km round trip during busy period

One paramedic said crews could be on the road for four to eight more hours after a ‘hectic’ 12-hour shift.

File photo of ambulance worker in Dublin city centre.
File photo of ambulance worker in Dublin city centre.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

AMBULANCE WORKERS FROM Clare drove a round trip of over 900km at the weekend due to local resources being held up elsewhere, trade union SIPTU has said. 

The trade union’s health division organiser Paul Bell said workers on a 12-hour shift in an ambulance base in Clare were sent on a 901km round trip to Clonmel and Youghal in Cork as resources were held up in Tipperary.

Ambulances from Kilkenny bases were also dispatched to emergencies in Cork. 

“This chaotic system is not only bad for patients and driving up ambulance waiting times it is also having detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of our members with many ambulance professionals continuously exposed to long shift over-runs and unsatisfactory rest and break times,” Bell said. 

A spokesperson for the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS) said they and their colleagues in hospitals have experienced a “very busy time over the recent festive season”. 

“NAS dispatches resources on a national and area basis as opposed to a county basis. The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) has visibility of all resources and can therefore assign the nearest available resource to every incident.

“Due to the high volume of calls received over the festive season, as well as the high number of attendances to hospital emergency departments, emergency ambulances experienced delays in turnaround times.”

The spokesperson added that escalation policies are in place between the NAS and emergency departments to manage delays in patient transfers and to ensure ambulances are available to respond to emergency calls at all times. 

Paul Bell said representatives of SIPTU have called on Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Department of Health and the HSE to take “immediately and effective action” to relieve pressure experienced by ambulance workers in Ireland. 

Bell said members of the trade union have reported delays of between three and seven hours outside emergency departments during winter time. 

“This is not what quality patient care looks like, and this kind of chaos is starving communities of a safe and functioning ambulance service, particularly in areas of the west of Ireland and in the midlands,” he said. 

NAS staff have said that crews based in Limerick are regularly sent to respond to calls in Dublin, Wexford and Kilkenny.

Ambulances from Clare have also been dispatched to places like Laois, Tipperary, Westmeath, Cork and Kerry. 

Paramedics have said it’s only a matter of time before a crew is involved in an accident on an unfamiliar road or falls asleep at the wheel because they are being sent on cross-country calls.

“This idea of dynamic deployment that the NAS continues to espouse is a myth and doesn’t work,” one paramedic said. 

The attitude is, let’s get an ambulance on the road to the call, any ambulance from anywhere in the country just so they can tell Hiqa (Health Information and Quality Authority) that they mobilised the nearest resource within 90 seconds.

“The crew may well be on the road in 90 seconds but it could be, and nowadays more likely to be, to a call 300 kilometres away. This regularly happens when a crew is close to an already hectic 12-hour shift and they could be on the road for four to eight more hours,” they said. 

With reporting by Pat Flynn.  

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