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Dublin: 4 °C Saturday 23 March, 2019
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Parents of toddler who was unresponsive for an hour given 'mixed messages' about ambulance location

“Another 2 minutes and we would have been dealing with a very different outcome,” the parents were told at the Cavan hospital.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Sam Boal

ONE OF THE parents of a two-and-a-half year old child who went into septic shock due to bacteremia and was unresponsive for an hour said that they were given mixed messages about the location of the ambulance.

The parent wrote to the Minister for Health outlining their concerns about the ambulance service when they called for one on 27 March this year. The letter was released to TheJournal.ie under a Freedom of Information request.

The parent said that in the space of an hour and 15 minutes, their son began vomiting, his temperature rose to 39 degrees – the child then became “non-reactive, and went limp”.

The ambulance was called at 7.01pm, and the family were told by an operator that “it was coming from Cavan”.

Several minutes later we were told the ambulance had not left Cavan.

When the parents suggested meeting the ambulance partway between their home and Cavan town, the operator said that they should remain at their address in case they passed the ambulance on the way.

Fifteen minutes after first calling the operator, the family said that they “received mixed messages from the ambulance operator on the location of the ambulance, which placed the ambulance between thirty and forty minutes from our home”.

After pressing the operator for advice on self-transporting their son part of the way, the parents collected a defibrillator. They met the ambulance on the R190 in Lisnalong, a 30 minute drive from Cavan town.

map of route ambulance Where the ambulance met the parents, and the route to Cavan General Hospital from there. Source: Google Maps

Upon meeting the ambulance, an EMT told them “finally, parents with the sense to come meet us on the road”, according to the family’s letter to the Minister.

In the letter they said:

In reflection, this has compounded our concerns that (a) there is an inconsistency in messaging from ambulance control and EMT staff, and (b) the ambulance service is wholly inadequate in responding to calls in a timely manner within our region.

Upon arrival at the hospital at 8pm, the toddler had stopped breathing and required immediate intubation; the parents said that the anesthetist said “another 2 minutes and we would have been dealing with a very different outcome”.

The family raised a number of questions with the Minister about the ambulance service in the region, including why an ambulance wasn’t dispatched from Monaghan or Castleblayney, which they said was less than half the distance from Cavan town to their home (44 kms).

They also added that the care they received upon meeting the ambulance and arriving at the hospital was “exemplary”, “but accessing that care in an emergency situation not only failed to meet our expectations as parents, but failed in fulfilling the National Ambulance Service’s own mission statement of ‘providing high quality, safe and patient-centred care’”.

There have been a number of close calls with ambulances in areas across the country, particularly in rural areas where resources are scarce and ambulance crews must cover a large area.

In January this year a choking toddler in Galway had to be brought to hospital in a Garda car due to delays in the ambulance service. Other delays have been reported in Donegal, Roscommon, Monaghan and Dublin in the past year.

In February, a Galway GP invoiced the National Ambulance Service for attending an ambulance call to highlight its constant delays in responding to emergencies.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Health said that there has been an increase in the number of emergency calls for ambulances and that according to the National Ambulance Service, the total volume call this year to date is 167,576 – an increase of 11,155 on the same period last year.

“This year, an additional sum of €10.7 million has been made available which includes €2.8 million to fund new developments,” the Department said.

It also said that the Department does not hold a record regarding the number of complaints about ambulance delays for the first six months of the year.

The HSE was contacted for comment, but a statement was not made available at the time of publication.

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