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Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Ambulance carrying critically ill patient forced to wait at toll plaza

A paramedic described a recent event as “terrifying”.

A PARAMEDIC CREW with a seriously ill patient on board was forced to stop at a toll booth as it had not been supplied with an electronic toll tag, The Journal has learned.

The incident happened in the southeast of the country at the end of September.

Multiple sources within the National Ambulance Service have confirmed to this publication that most ambulances are not fitted with electronic tags which would allow the vehicles to move through motorway barriers unimpeded.

Under local authorities’ by-laws, ambulances are exempt from paying tolls. However, details of the registration are often taken manually by staff while the booths are manned – an act that itself causes delays, if only by a few seconds.

In some instances during the night when there is no staff, paramedics have to push the help button and wait for an external staff member to let them through remotely. These staff are usually located in external buildings adjacent to the toll booths themselves.

While most of the busy tolling points on major routes are manned, there are some stations on sliproads that do not have staff members on duty during nighttime hours.

A paramedic, speaking to us on condition of anonymity, described a recent event as “terrifying”.

He and a colleague had attended a scene where they encountered a seriously ill patient.

The paramedic explained how he was using an apparatus that was effectively “breathing for the patient” when the ambulance came to a stop at a barrier.

It took “several minutes” for the ambulance to be let through, according to this paramedic.

“All the while, we’re waiting here, waiting to get through and we have someone who is very ill in the back.

“It’s honestly terrifying. You’re thinking what could happen in that space of time if they were in hospital. There are times at night when the booths are not manned that we have to get out of the ambulance and actually push the help button.

You could be waiting there a few minutes but this is a time when seconds count and you’re doing your best to bring people for emergency help.

This is not an isolated incident, either.

Other toll booth pinch points include Loughrea in Galway as well as Enfield in Kildare. Paramedics have told us that these two particular toll booths can take up the most time.

Ted Kenny, ambulance sector organiser with trade union Siptu, told The Journal that anything that speeds up response times is to to be welcomed.

He said: “These are minutes and seconds you are dealing with. 

“Anything that can be done to help response times should be done in my opinion even if it’s getting toll tags sorted.

“It is something that makes sense to happen and you’d have to imagine there could be an easy workaround.”

A spokesperson for the HSE did not dispute that the incident had taken place but said it was “not aware of any emergency incident where an ambulance was delayed at a toll booth while treating a patient”.

The spokesperson added: “Typically, toll operators raise barriers to allow emergency vehicles swift access through toll booths when an emergency vehicle’s lighting is switched on.”

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