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One-third of ambulance delays lasting more than one hour experienced in Wexford, Cork and Kerry

In two instances in the first half of this year, there was a more than two-hour delay in paramedics arriving after being called.

File image of ambulances in Ireland.
File image of ambulances in Ireland.
Image: Sam Boal

AN AMBULANCE TURNED up to a life-threatening event more than an hour after being called on more than 300 occasions over the first six months of this year.

In two cases – both in the west of Ireland – there was a more than two-hour delay in paramedics arriving, according to records released by the National Ambulance Service.

Delays were most pronounced in Wexford, Cork, and Kerry, with well over a third of all the 60-minute plus response times recorded in just those three counties.

A breakdown of the reasons given for excessive delays in ambulance response time reveals that in 249 cases, the very long distance involved was to blame.

There were also 34 cases where the ambulance got stood down because an even more pressing emergency had occurred.

Two cases of ambulances breaking down en route were reported while in another incident there was a “potential violent scene,” and the paramedics were waiting for garda support.

Other reasons given for lengthy delays in reaching patients included bad weather conditions, decontaminating an ambulance, and problems with accurate directions.

In one case, the distance involved was so long that the vehicle had to make a pit-stop for fuel en route to the person needing assistance.

The figures, which cover the first six months of the year, detail two incidents where a delay of over 130 minutes was reported.

Both happened in January with the first occurring in Mayo when an ambulance arrived after two hours and 12 minutes when a “higher acuity call” came in.

In Galway during the same month, an ambulance took two hours and eighteen minutes to arrive because of the distance involved in reaching a rural location.

The data reveals how some areas of the country struggled massively with ambulance response times especially in the early months of the year when Covid-19 rates were high.

A target response time of 19 minutes is set for callouts considered life-threatening, including highest priority Echo calls, and second highest priority Delta calls.

In the National Ambulance Service’s West region in January, only 47% of Delta calls were reached within that target, and 57% of Echo calls.

For the Midland area, the Echo target was met 65% of the time in January, while Delta calls were dealt with on target in 44% of cases.

There were also two highest-priority Echo calls – relating to life-threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest – that were not responded to within an hour, according to the records that were released.

These both took place back in January with one critical emergency call in Waterford taking an ambulance one hour and 44 minutes to arrive.

Delays of over an hour for either Delta or Echo calls were most prevalent in Wexford where 47 such cases were recorded, Cork with 36, and Kerry with another 30.

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There were also high figures for Waterford with 26 sixty-minute-plus delays for emergency calls, Wicklow with 24 and Tipperary with 21.

The National Ambulance Service said extended delays were just a very small percentage of the nearly 57,000 Echo and Delta calls they had received between January and June.

Of the 2,671 Echo calls, only two were responded to after more than an hour, while overall, only 0.57% of Delta calls had a response time of more than sixty minutes.

A statement from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) said response times had been hit by delays in offloading patients at A&Es and a shortage of qualified staff.

They said: “This year recruitment to the NAS is being outpaced by demand for our services which has grown by almost 30%. There is no ready supply of paramedics in Ireland and the NAS for the most part must educate their own workforce in their own college.

“The surge in demand for service has come at a time when staff are also working hard to support Covid-19 related activities.”

They said they operated on a national basis and mobilised responses based on patient needs.

“Ambulances may travel to and be dispatched from various locations irrespective of their base as they are not confined to work in geographical areas,” they said.

“The current deployment model is designed around international best practice and has eliminated previous practices where the nearest ambulance was not always dispatched due to former legacy boundaries.”

About the author:

Ken Foxe

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