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National targets for ambulance response times to be abandoned

James Reilly is to come up with alternative ways of measuring the performance of the National Ambulance Service.

Karl Macken (2) helps launch a stroke awareness campaign last month.
Karl Macken (2) helps launch a stroke awareness campaign last month.
Image: Photocall Ireland

NATIONAL TARGETS for the response times by which an ambulance should be dispatched to deal with a life-threatening medical emergency are to be abandoned.

The Minister for Health, James Reilly, says alternative methods of evaluating the performance of the ambulance service will be formulated.

The decision comes only weeks after HIQA increased its targets for response times for ambulances and medical personnel who are called to a life-threatening cardiac or respiratory emergency.

Since January of last year, ambulances responding to such emergencies – known as ‘ECHO’ calls – were due to respond to 75 per cent of calls within 18 minutes and 59 seconds of being alerted. Last month the target was raised to 85 per cent.

Separate targets for both ‘ECHO’ and ‘DELTA’ calls, involving life-threatening conditions not involving cardiac or respiratory problems, are that a first responder trained in defibrillator use and minimum life support skills should be dispatched – ahead of an ambulance – within 7 minutes and 59 seconds.

In response to a Dáil question from Richard Boyd Barrett, Reilly said the decision to review the analysis criteria was “in line with international views” and also followed other changes including the operation of a trial air ambulance service and the formulation of a Performance Improvement Action Plan by the HSE’s National Ambulance Service.

Reilly did not indicate whether HIQA’s current targets had been met, instead referring the query on to the HSE.

He said, however, that the use of clinical indicators would “enable a focus” on ECHO and DELTA calls.

Responding to similar questions last year, Reilly said the targets for first responders were met for 53.1 per cent of ECHO calls in 2011, while the targets for DELTA calls were met only 28.45 per cent of the time.

On that instance Reilly said part of the difficulty in dispatching ambulances in time was the habit of using ambulances to transfer patients between hospitals, which tied them up and left them unavailable to respond to new urgent calls.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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