Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Ambulance Service

3:30 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to address the House, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on ambulance resources and services, particularly those in the Laois and Offaly region. I join my colleagues in giving my gratitude to the healthcare workers in these very difficult times.

The National Ambulance Service, NAS, does not operate a station-based deployment system but instead uses "dynamic deployment" on a national basis. Dynamic deployment allows staff in the HSE's national emergency operations centre to see all available resources and match them with service demand requirements in real time.

While Laois and Offaly have between five and nine vehicle resources, support is also provided by crews based at Athy, Roscrea, Carlow and Athlone and by crews from the NAS north Leinster region as whole.

The 2014 HIQA report into pre-hospital emergency care highlighted this process as a way to improve response times and NAS performance generally. Using dynamic deployment allows the NAS to prioritise resource allocation to the higher acuity calls that require an immediate emergency response. It also allows the NAS to categorise non-serious or non-life-threatening calls and to provide a resource appropriate to the patient's need. This does mean that lower acuity calls will sometimes experience a longer wait for an ambulance, and this has been a challenge in recent years.

A 2016 emergency service baseline and capacity review highlighted particular difficulties associated with ambulance services in rural areas as Ireland's population density is significantly different from those of many other countries. This review suggested that the most practical way of providing an initial response to many calls in rural areas is through voluntary community first responders, CFRs. Community first responders are members of the community who are supported by the ambulance service in providing a high level of initial response within their local community. The NAS has worked hard to grow the CFR scheme over the years, and in 2021 a total of 275 schemes have been established, including 19 schemes covering Laois and Offaly. While it was necessary to temporarily stand down these groups due to the pandemic response, 103 of the 275 are now operational again, including ten in Laois and Offaly. The NAS is continuing to work on reactivating all such groups.

As the House will be aware, the NAS also continues to provide significant support to the HSE's response to the pandemic, particularly in respect of the national testing and vaccination programmes. This is being delivered against a backdrop of an overall increase in both hospital activity and emergency calls in the latter half of this year. The NAS anticipates that the release of staff from Covid-related duties in the coming months will improve resource availability across the board. I can advise that in 2021, the NAS has been allocated additional funding of €10 million, which includes funding for additional paramedic staff in line with the baseline capacity needs that have been identified.

I wish to highlight to the House the progress that has been made in recent years through the NAS strategic plan, Vision 2020. The NAS has been undergoing a significant process of modernisation that includes service innovations aimed at providing alternative pathways of care and helping to improve resource availability and response times. The Government is committed to this strategic reform plan, which has been developed to ensure we have a modern, agile and responsive National Ambulance Service.


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