AN ambulance crash, early on Sunday morning, has led some members of the life-saving service to express concerns about the service being at ‘crisis point.’
And it has been claimed that some crew are refusing to drive back to the base after completing 18-hour shifts and are being put up in hotels as a result.
There were no patients on board when the ambulance went off the road at about 7am last Sunday, just outside Kealkil, near Bantry. No other vehicles were involved, and none of the crew members were injured.
A spokesperson for the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS) said that with more than 600 vehicles travelling more than two million kilometres a month ‘road traffic incidents will occur from time to time.’
However, members of the ambulance crew have begun to speak out. One man complained that ‘enforced overtime’ – which sees their 12-hour shift extended to 14, 16 and sometimes 18 hours – presents a real danger to them, patient outcomes, and the long-term effectiveness of the service. There are four ambulances in West Cork, but they are now travelling massive distances and attending life-threatening calls in Cork city, and Kerry, on a daily basis.
‘This is doubly dangerous,’ he said, ‘because patients in the city are waiting hours for the ambulance to arrive, while West Cork residents are left with little or no ambulance cover in their area during day shifts and night shifts.
‘We are having to apologise to patients for the length of time it takes us to get there,’ he added.
‘It’s embarrassing. Worse than that, it’s dangerous. This has to be highlighted because people are going to die due to delays.
‘The pressure crews are being put under is enormous and our sympathy goes out to the West Cork crew involved in the collision on Sunday morning on the Bantry line,’ he said.
It is understood that when the ambulance went off the road, some tree branches came in through the window.
‘The crew were lucky not to have sustained injuries after an extremely busy night shift,’ according to their colleague.
The man said he fears for his own safety and pointed out that some crews are now refusing to drive back to their bases after doing an 18-hour shift.
In such scenarios, he said, the ambulance service has to accommodate them in hotels.
‘This is the only way crews have to combat the ridiculous demands being placed on them and to protect their own health and safety,’ he added.
Ambulance crews believe the switch to operating the service from a regional to national basis isn’t as effective as it might appear on paper.
An NAS spokesperson confirmed that the ambulance service operates on a national basis and mobilises responses to calls for assistance based on patient need.
The spokesperson said call taking and dispatch functions across two sites at Dublin and Ballyshannon, and the most urgent calls are prioritised with the nearest available, and most appropriate response, dispatched.