Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 November 2008

1:00 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing this motion on the Adjournment. I apologise to the Minister of State for arriving late, but I was expecting a vote on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008.

The matter I raise was brought to my attention by Councillor Orla Leyden, who has contacted Professor Brendan Drumm of the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children. It relates to the non-cover of ambulance services at Roscommon County Hospital on Friday, 14 November 2008. We have an excellent ambulance service based at the hospital. It is vital that it is maintained on a 24-hour basis for 365 days of the year. There was no ambulance service in Roscommon on the weekend in question due to the lack of relief staff and overtime hours. It is vital that ambulance services in Roscommon are adequately staffed both day and night. We have an excellent ambulance service, with conscientious staff, excellent ambulance vehicles and a state-of-the-art accident and emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital. These services are being undermined by the lack of a vital link in the chain, which is the relief of staff to cover the ambulance service.

We cannot allow a situation to arise where people in the area must wait for an ambulance to come from Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon or Boyle to bring them to Roscommon County Hospital, which is on their doorstep. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that immediate action is taken to rectify the situation. The HSE website states that the objective of the ambulance service is to provide clinically appropriate and timely pre-hospital emergency care and patient client transport services, and that immediate responses are provided to emergency calls. That was not the case in Roscommon last weekend. If a road traffic accident had occurred in the area, which is a far too common occurrence these days, there would have been no immediate emergency ambulance response available.

This has been the cause of great concern in the area, especially in light of the debate on the amalgamation of services between Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and Roscommon County Hospital. The key to the development of these services is the continuation of a first-class ambulance service based in the hospitals in Roscommon and Ballinasloe. In the golden hour following an accident or an emergency call, it is imperative that an ambulance would be on call quickly. A hospital service must be on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It cannot function without that basic infrastructure.

I compliment the staff of Roscommon County Hospital and the staff of the ambulance service, who provide an excellent service. Anyone can get sick and anyone can find it difficult to turn up at a particular time for an emergency. However, there must be an adequate relief service for such an event. I ask the Minister of State to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health and Children. I look forward to her reply on this issue. The people of Roscommon deserve the best possible hospital service, including the service to bring patients to a hospital in their locality. It is unacceptable that, while we in Roscommon have a top-class hospital, we have no ambulance service in the area to bring patients to the hospital in a speedy manner.

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State with special responsibility for Health Promotion and Food Safety, Department of Health and Children; Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and I also thank Councillor Orla Leyden for bringing it to his attention.

The HSE wishes to ensure the availability of the highest quality emergency ambulance service across the HSE western region. Ambulance services for County Roscommon are provided primarily by ambulances from Boyle, Roscommon town and Ballinasloe. In addition, these stations are, when necessary, supported by the deployment of crews based in Carrick-on-Shannon, Longford, Athlone and Loughrea.

As it is a regional service, the western regional ambulance service will direct its resources to those areas where the need is greatest at any given time. When ambulance personnel are absent from duty for reasons such as sick leave, annual leave or for training purposes, service delivery across the region is drawn from the full range of ambulance resources. Where necessary, staff can be moved to different stations across the region to ensure maximum service availability. In addition, some stations with low volume call-outs are covered from another station.

The Minister wishes to assure both Senator Leyden and Councillor Orla Leyden that the HSE is committed to ensuring the availability of emergency ambulance services across the HSE west region and that this is being achieved by maximising the use of available resources.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response but it has not dealt with the fact that there was no ambulance service cover on 14 November this year for Roscommon County Hospital. I intend to pursue this matter further to investigate the circumstances surrounding that situation. I will try to get an assurance there will no recurrence of a situation whereby we do not have an ambulance service on call at Roscommon County Hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is what I am calling for and I hope the Minister of State will convey this to the Department. If I do not obtain a more detailed response from Professor Drumm in due course, I will take this matter up further in the House. The Minister of State's response was general, but on a specific night no ambulance service was available. I have spoken to the ambulance services——

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should ask a question.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending the House and I recognise her goodwill in this regard. I know she will convey my views to the Department to ensure there will be no recurrence of this situation in future.