Dáil debates

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Ambulance Service

5:50 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I am looking for confirmation on a situation to do with an ambulance base in Carlow town. This has been going on for a very long time. Carlow has an excellent paramedic service but it is in a building at St. Dympna's Hospital that is not fit for purpose. We were originally told that the service would be moved to another part of the building at St. Dympna's. We subsequently believed that was to be changed. According to our capital plan, which was great, Holy Angels Day Care Centre will get its new build on what is called the Kelvin Grove site in Carlow town, which is HSE land. We then received word that the ambulance base would be built in Kelvin Grove as part of that plan. Again, there has been no clear confirmation of anything that will happen.

This situation is very unfortunate because we have the best of paramedics who have always worked so hard, especially during the Covid pandemic. I know many of the lads in Carlow and I see how hard the men and women paramedics work. They are excellent. The building they are in is not fit for purpose. Is there funding in the capital plan? What is the situation as we go forward? We need to give information to the paramedics and let them know what is happening. Without confirmation of the funding it is very hard to know what is happening. I brought this matter up during Questions on Promised Legislation and have tabled parliamentary questions on it. This has been going on a long time. It is not something that happened yesterday or today but has been going on for years now. What is the update on it? I ask the Minister of State to come back to me, hopefully, with an answer on it.

I also raise a second serious issue. There is a massive number of long delays in accessing ambulances because the system has changed in Carlow. Ambulances are often sent to other counties because of our location. When an ambulance is gone, there is no ambulance to replace it so we are experiencing shortages. There is no ambulance there and it is not acceptable. I have heard reports of people in life-threatening situations waiting 90 minutes or more for an ambulance. I have had calls from elderly people who have had to be brought to an emergency room in the back of a family member's car because no ambulance is available.

My concern is because of what happened recently. All ambulance calls are now managed through the central National Emergency Operations Centre. It is supposed to ensure that the most urgent calls get the highest priority response, regardless of the location of the ambulance. This is a major issue. So many things are now happening. We have a base that is not fit for purpose, our ambulance paramedics are leaving our county and people in Carlow are suffering. I can tell the Minister of State that there is anger out there among people who want to know why they are waiting so long for an ambulance. This is not just in Carlow. Approximately two or three weeks ago, Deputies and Senators from the south east had a virtual meeting with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, during which issues concerning ambulance service delays were discussed.

What is being put in place in that regard? Did the Minister talk to the Minister of State about this? What is the update? Will there be a new base for Carlow town or what is the situation? What is the progress on it? Where is the funding and is it in the capital plan?

6:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It would be great if the Minister of State could answer the Deputy's second question but the primary focus will be on the question she actually submitted.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure he is aware of it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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God bless your versatility.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising the provision of an ambulance base in Carlow town. It is a town with which I am very familiar. The National Ambulance Service is the statutory pre-hospital emergency and intermediate care provider and it seeks to serve the needs of patients and the public as part of an integrated health system through the provision of high-quality, safe and patient-centred services. Carlow ambulance base is an integral part of the ambulance service and has four emergency ambulances on duty. The base is supported by National Ambulance Service resources from surrounding ambulance stations, including Baltinglass, Athy, Kilkenny, Portlaoise and Enniscorthy. Dynamic deployment of available resources operates on an area and national basis, rather than a county or geographical boundary basis, to ensure optimum resource use as the nearest appropriate resource is mobilised to the location of the incident. The priority of dynamic deployment is patient health and welfare in the context of service delivery, which means that resources cannot be confined by county boundaries, barriers or borders.

The National Ambulance Service operates a comprehensive safety management system across all its premises in the south and continues to work collaboratively with staff and HSE estates or external providers to ensure that any concerns or issues that occur are dealt with as quickly as possible. Remedial works to the value of approximately €50,000 were carried out at Carlow ambulance base, located in Carlow town at the Carlow Health Services complex on Athy Road, in 2020. These works addressed requirements to make the ambulance base fit for purpose and included a list of maintenance-type works to doors, walls, floor coverings and minor leaks, with full certification of electrical and fire safety systems. Earlier this year, the National Ambulance Service completed a detailed prioritisation assessment for all ambulance stations in the southern region. As a result of this, the new base for Carlow has been confirmed as being the second highest priority for the National Ambulance Service in the south east. The National Ambulance Service is currently working with HSE estates in planning a future replacement for the current facility and has confirmed that a greenfield site has been identified and is under consideration. A capital submission for this project is being developed and capital funding for the project will follow, in accordance with overall prioritisation planning.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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When the Minister of State says it is the second highest priority, does that mean it is number two on a list, or does it mean it is on a second list of other cases that may be considered?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle because that was my question. I always get worried when I hear about there being a list because these lists go on and on. While I thank the Minister of State for his reply it is not actually a reply. First, the remedial works that were done did not cost €50,000. I have been up in the base several times. The minimum works were done and those works definitely did not come to €50,000. I have said that and I will say it repeatedly because that information is not true.

Second, I again ask the Minister of State to explain what he means by this project being second on a priority list. I have been told that originally we were fourth or fifth on a list, then I was told we were sixth on a list and now I am told we are the second highest. There is still no confirmation from this discussion with the Minister of State tonight that there is funding there, that there is a timescale for when it will happen, or what exactly is going to happen. I will be going back to the paramedics saying that I have been told they are on a list and that I do not know what funding is there. The only piece of information I seem to have received is the reference to the Kelvin Grove site list. I would like that information given to me in a letter, if the Minister of State would not mind. He mentioned a site but I need to have the site identified. I also need to know what is happening with the funding. When is it going to happen? As I said, I could not give our paramedics enough praise for how hard they work but I have been going back to them for years and years with the same thing and getting no answers whatsoever. It is disingenuous. Tonight I brought it up again and I am constantly putting in questions about this issue and bringing it up here. Again tonight I am not getting any answers. The paramedics who are saving lives and have worked through Covid and whatever else are not getting a building in 2021. We are now going into 2022 and they have a building that is not fit for purpose. It is not right and it is absolute neglect.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State can only supply the Deputy with the information he is supplied with.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I again thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue of the provision of the ambulance base located in Carlow town. I do not have the information on what area is higher on the list but I will try to get that information from the Minister and I will ask him to forward it to the Deputy. In line with Sláintecare and Vision 2020, a significant programme of work is under way to transform the National Ambulance Service from an emergency medical service into a mobile medical service. This is a model that aims to treat patients at the lowest appropriate level of acuity, resulting in a better experience for the patient and a more efficient use of resources. As the Deputy rightly said, Carlow ambulance base is an integral part of the ambulance service. She praised the advanced paramedics, the ambulance service and all the staff and I join with her in that. They have done great work, not just in Carlow and the south east but across the country. They have certainly saved lives and we are very proud of them.

The capital spend on ambulance base facilities is an integral part of the ambulance service and is prioritised by the National Ambulance Service to meet the requirements of those bases with the highest needs. This year, an unprecedented €187.5 million is being invested in the National Ambulance Service. This includes €10 million in additional funding to progress priority areas in line with the National Ambulance Service strategic reform, including continuing to target capacity deficits as identified in the National Ambulance Service emergency services baseline and capacity review. Again, engagement is continuing between the National Ambulance Service and HSE estates in progressing the capital submission for a replacement base.

The Dáil adjourned at at 6.58 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 November 2021.