Thursday, 14 October 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Exactly. It is important for us to understand what we are talking about and where some of the gaps in the service are. This model represents international best practice and has been highlighted by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, as a way to improve response times and NAS performance generally. Using this model does mean that non-serious or non-life-threatening calls will sometimes experience a longer wait for an ambulance. The wait times for lower-acuity calls have presented a particular challenge recently, as the NAS has seen unusually high demand. This is in line with the current experience of many areas of our acute health service. As the Deputy may be aware, there is a shortage of qualified paramedics in Ireland, but the NAS has been incrementally building capacity in recent years through implementation of the Vision 2020 strategic plan.
In 2021 the NAS received additional funding of €10 million, which included further funding for additional paramedic staff. As part of budget 2022, an additional €8.3 million will assist in modernising and building up the capacity of our National Ambulance Service. To help to meet the immediate capacity challenges, the NAS advises that it has redeployed approximately 45 paramedics from Covid-19 related work to emergency ambulance duty. Over the short to medium term, I understand that a further 80 paramedics are due to graduate from the NAS college this quarter, which is significant. The paramedic programme is a three-year course, and there are over 200 student paramedics at different stages of the programme, with a further 100 students scheduled to commence in January. To support workforce planning over the longer term, the NAS has commissioned an independent analysis of demand. The results of the analysis will provide greater clarity about staffing requirements over the coming years. The NAS has highlighted the particular difficulty with service delivery in rural areas that was noted in the 2016 Emergency Service Baseline and Capacity Review. The review suggested that the most practical way of providing an initial response to many calls in rural areas is through voluntary community first responders. While that may be successful in certain cases, in critical cases, an ambulance and clinical diagnosis are required.