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Ambulance cuts "will cause fatalities"

Kildare TD says cutbacks in ambulance services that will see night time service curtailed is “a disgrace”.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

DUE TO HSE cutbacks, ambulance stations are to close for certain time periods from September.

Tallaght, Swords and Maynooth will all be hit with ambulance station closures, with Tallaght closing between 7am and 7pm on Mondays.

The area is normally covered by two crews – but Dublin City Fire Brigade ambulance crew will now have to cover the area.

The shut-downs will happen on a daily basis and effect bases not just in Dublin, but other areas across the country.

Independent Kildare TD Catherine Murphy told TheJournal.ie:

I have heard that due to the changes in the roster in Maynooth there will be no service operating at night – that is something that is extremely alarming to me, especially when you think of how busy Friday and Saturday nights can be.

“There seem to be some quite sizeable changes happening and without any sort of discussion on how these cuts will effect services,” said Ms Murphy.

She said she was “hugely concerned that these measures are putting lives at risk” adding:

I am gigantically frustrated. It’s a disgrace.

She said that the HSE seemed to looking simply at making cuts and staying within budget rather than “focusing on achieving even a basic level of service that is, above all, safe”.

County Wicklow will also be affected by closures which coupled with the planned closure of the 24 hour A&E in St Columcilles Hospital, Loughlinstown, will put lives on the line and must be rejected says local Sinn Fein County Councillor John Brady.

The cuts are a result of an agreement under the Croke Park Agreement which called for new rostering for the ambulance service. The new rosters are being implemented by the National Ambulance Service to reflect the reduction of weekly working hours from 40 to 39 and a ban on overtime imposed by the HSE.

The ambulance service that covers Wicklow operates from bases in Loughlinstown, Wicklow Town, Arklow and Baltinglass. In 2010 they responded to a total of 3577 calls.

While the HSE would not confirm the exact details of what stations in Wicklow would close and when, they stated that the change in rosters “will result in the same levels of service and manpower but at lower costs to the taxpayer”.

The statement added:

The HSE is not closing any ambulance bases/stations. The stations being referred to will be serviced by crews from adjacent locations who are being actively deployed. The National Ambulance Service provides a dynamic responsive service and once in a vehicle, staff are deployed as and where required.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie Councillor Brady said that he has been briefed by ambulance personnel on the cuts:

Under the new working arrangements a number of ambulance bases in Wicklow won’t be staffed on certain days of the week. Ambulance personal have informed me for example that they will have no one available to operate the base or ambulances from the Arklow base on a Monday because of the new roster.

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Last year the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the health service watchdog, set benchmarks for ambulance workers stating that they must respond to life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks within eight minutes.

Figures published this year by Health Minister James Reilly show that only 53.1 per cent of ‘ECHO’-class calls – dealing with patients suffering from a life-threatening emergency – were dispatched within 8 minutes of their arrival.

Loughlinstown emergency department treated over 21,000 people alone last year. “I just don’t see how they expect to maintain the same level of service and meet the targets that they recommend?”

Last year, Wicklow County councillors raised concerns for members of the public that would have to travel from Arklow to St Vincent’s for emergency treatment. Councillors used the example that if a man having a heart attack in Arklow would have to travel over 40 miles to St Vincent’s Hospital. The councillors stated in that meeting that if the closure of the emergency department was implemented then the ambulance service would have to be improved dramatically.

“These cutbacks are going to cause fatalities – there is no doubt about it,” said Councillor Brady.

Councillor Brady said that it is not just emergency services that the Ambulance Service provide that will be affected. Loughlinstown base provides a mini-bus service that takes cancer patients for treatment which he says he has been told has also been removed from the roster. In a statement to TheJournal.ie the HSE said:

Resources are available from, James Station in the first instance, also there may be resources travelling through the area on route to hospital or from hospital available.

In relation to the Tallaght Area the statement said:

There is also an emergency motorcycle unit on duty in the Tallaght Area. We have the option to utilise ambulances from outside the area who are in the city and available.

We have also introduced an Intermediate care vehicles (ICV) service in South County Dublin which has removed the lower acuity ambulance transports from the emergency ambulances, which when coupled with the Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System (AMPDS) in the Command and Control Centre is ensuring the availability of emergency ambulances to respond to emergency calls on a clinical need basis.

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