Thursday, 14 October 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. The issues here have manifested themselves over the past number of months, in particular, in respect of the waiting times for ambulances. In the area I come from in Duhallow, ambulances come from either Tralee or Cork, but they also might come from Limerick. In one instance, an ambulance came from Clare. A number of incidents have been brought to my attention where there was a two and a half hour wait from the time that the GP called for an ambulance for a critically ill patient to be picked up. It is simply not acceptable in this day and age. We had many issues with the National Ambulance Service, NAS, and all the key issues that fed into that over the years. Nowadays, however, there is a long waiting time for an ambulance from the time someone calls for one. It might be different in the city or in the suburbs near the locations of the hospitals, but people are an hour from one of the major hospitals in the Duhallow region. Therein lies the problem, when added to waiting two and a half hours from the time the urgent call comes in.
I am referring to urgent cases that have been brought to my attention, not just the ordinary, run-of-the-mill issues that might need an ambulance; these were extremely ill patients. The GP and the medics decided that it was important that those people were taken to hospital immediately by an ambulance. While sometimes people can be taken by car, it was decided that an ambulance, paramedics, well trained staff, and so forth, were needed to take them to hospital.
Over the years I have been in the back of many ambulances to accompany patients. I could not speak highly enough of the paramedics and other staff and the dedication, commitment and professionalism that they demonstrate when carrying out their work. However, if a seriously ill person is waiting for an ambulance to arrive for two and a half hours after it had been called for, that is simply not acceptable. It is not a service. When it comes to major traumas or strokes, there is an important "golden hour" to try and get somebody into hospital setting.
I appeal to the Minister to get the HSE to target this. Today is 14 October. In the past number of months there was an urgent case where a patient waited for two and a half hours for an ambulance. Others waited for three hours. What will the waiting time be in the first week in January or the last week of December, when we are the height of the winter season? I do not think that there is an urgency in respect of the crisis in the ambulance services. Many of the fine people I know who work in the ambulance service constantly tell me about the difficulties they face, particularly in Mallow Hospital, which is a fantastic acute hospital. It does not take patients from the ambulances. To my mind there is no reason for that. Regulations should be changed. Two and a half hours is too long to wait for an ambulance. There should be ambulances within Duhallow and the wider north Cork region. Ambulances should be there and on call. There should be a basic ambulance service for critically ill people to get them to hospital in time.