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FactCheck: Has Eircode really "saved lives"?

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck examines a bold claim made by Minister Denis Naughten.


ONE OF THE most eye-catching claims heard in the Dáil last week was made by Denis Naughten.

On Thursday, the Minister for Communications was fielding questions about Eircode, the new national postcode system, when he asserted that its use by ambulances has “saved lives”.

This caused a few readers to do a double-take and get in touch with us.

One was Anne Marie Devlin and another, interestingly, was Peter Kavanagh, Head of Communications with Active Retirement Ireland, who actually sat on Eircode’s National Advisory Group for Community Outreach.

(Remember, if you see a bold claim but no evidence, email factcheck@thejournal.ie).

Claim: The use of Eircode by ambulances has saved lives in the last six months
Verdict: Unproven

  • Denis Naughten could not provide evidence to support his claim
  • It is possible he is right, but we lack evidence to evaluate how plausible his claim is
  • There is no evidence to refute his claim

What was said:

Just so we’re all clear, here’s the relevant section of Minister Naughten’s comments on Thursday:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The point is that it [Eircode] is saving lives today. It has saved lives over the last six months, and I believe it will be of massive benefit to our health service.

The Facts

We asked Naughten’s office for evidence of instances where a fatality that would otherwise have happened, had been prevented due to an ambulance’s use of Eircode.

His spokesperson could not provide that evidence.

Is it possible?

A spokesperson for Minister Naughten told us that since February, anyone calling for an ambulance can give the phone operator their Eircode, and that this can be conveyed to ambulance staff.

The National Ambulance Service have Eircodes loaded into their Computer-Aided Dispatch System (CAD), and this went live in operation in February 2016.
This means that a caller in any part of the country, when contacting the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), can give the call-taker the patient’s Eircode, as part of the address, who will enter the details in the CAD which will validate it.
The call-taker will then be able to locate the position of the patient’s property along with the position of the ambulance on a digital map to the emergency.
The dispatcher can then direct the nearest available ambulance to the correct location facilitating a much speedier access to care.

The HSE (which operates the National Ambulance Service) confirmed that the capacity to use Eircodes had indeed been functional since February.

So yes, the capacity does currently exist for Eircodes to be used by ambulances in Ireland, and therefore it is at least possible that their use has saved lives.

Is it plausible?

eircode Source: Eircode.ie

We asked the HSE how widely Eircodes were being used by ambulances, but they told us that the National Ambulance Service “does not routinely report on the use of Eircodes”.

We also asked them for data on average ambulance response times before and since the use of Eircodes by the National Ambulance Service began in February.

Unfortunately, the most recently published HSE performance report only covers January and February, so we don’t have enough data to make a proper comparison of ambulance response times since the introduction of Eircodes.

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naughten Source: Oireachtas.ie

Denis Naughten could not provide any evidence to support his claim that the use of Eircodes by ambulances had “saved lives”.

However, ambulances have had the capacity to use Eircodes, along with postal addresses, since February, so it is at least possible that the Minister is right.

To assess how plausible the claim is, we would need to have data on how widespread the use of Eircodes has been, as well as geographic patterns, and cross-reference that with emergency response trends over a significant period of time.

None of that information is available as of now, so we can’t evaluate how plausible Naughten’s claim is.

The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. This is especially so for an extraordinary claim like this one, made by an authoritative figure like the Minister for Communications.

So Denis Naughten’s Dáil statement should be viewed in this light.

However, there is simply not enough evidence to evaluate it either way, so we rate this claim Unproven.

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie

About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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