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Lives put at risk over ambulance wait times

November 21st, 2022 6:30 AM

By Jackie Keogh

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AN increase in the turnaround times for ambulances is putting people’s lives at risk.

That’s according to Independent Cllrs Declan Hurley and Paul Hayes who raised concerns about patient safety at either ends of the constituency after it emerged that the south west has ‘the longest average’ turnaround times.

They claim the average time in the south west – at over an hour and 15 minutes – is more than double what it should be, and does not compare favourably to the national average of 52 minutes.

The time ambulances crews have to wait at hospitals before being able to accept another callout in the south west has increased from 57 minutes and 25 seconds in 2021, to one hour 15 minutes and 40 seconds in 2022.

This, the councillors say, is in stark contrast to the 30 minute turnaround ‘target’ set by the National Ambulance Service.

Cllr Hurley, chairman of the Friends of Bantry General Hospital, said ‘swift care’ is provided in Bantry because there isn’t a problem accessing beds.

To improve patient flow through emergency departments (EDs), like the one at Cork University Hospital, he suggested, requires more ambulances and more hospital beds.

A spokesperson for the HSE explained the current challenges in meeting ‘the extremely high levels of emergency department attendances.’

The number of attendances has exceeded 1.1m nationally so far this year – a figure that represents a 74% increase in admissions. The spokesperson said EDs prioritise and treat the sickest patients first, which means patients requiring less urgent care may have to wait longer times, including patients who arrive by ambulance.

Cllr Paul Hayes claimed the Clonakilty ambulance service is being called too often to cover Cork city, and this is reducing cover in West Cork.

And he referred to a log jam at CUH last Monday night when there were allegedly 12 ambulances waiting with admissions.

Cllr Hayes alleged that the schedules are ‘not safe’ because ambulance crews are doing anything between 12 and 17 hours a day and may not get to take their rest periods.

He claimed GPs are not taking responsibility for patient transfers and that the over-use of ambulances is blocking the ED system.

To alleviate the pressures in emergency care, the HSE spokesperson said they are working to provide additional beds, staffing and also to strengthen the community care teams.

She said the HSE is planning to extend the opening hours of local injury units, such as Bantry, during the winter months.

The spokesperson said hospitals are currently dealing with additional pressure in treating winter illnesses such as influenza, as well as Covid. She said funding of just over €169m has been assigned to implement measures in 2022 and 2023 to deliver acute and community beds, and to ‘improve pathways of care for patients’ to help reduce the number of presentations to hospitals.’

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