Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Ambulance Service Provision
I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to discuss this important matter. Last week I met people living with the impact of a stroke in the community. A new stroke support group has been established in County Roscommon, led by the Irish Heart Foundation. One of the issues raised at the meeting was the concern for people who attended the group and every person living in a rural area. We face real challenges in the ability of the ambulance service to respond quickly in rural areas.
The Lightfoot report was published last May. It examined two performance standard response times, namely eight and 19 minutes. It found that one in 15 ambulances reached patients in need of emergency care within the eight minutes target in rural areas. It also found that ambulances in the west were meeting the 19 minute response time in about 55% of calls. This report provides evidence beyond question of the strong case for the HSE to increase resources in order that we see improvements in ambulance services, especially in identified black spot areas such as west Roscommon. It shows that people who are living in ambulance black spot areas are exposed to an increased risk in terms of delayed intervention, which has been shown to have a negative impact on functional outcomes. For example, the likelihood of recovery after stroke dramatically improves the sooner the patient is assessed and treated.
We also know that ambulances are sometimes forced to wait with patience outside emergency departments for considerable lengths of time before being permitted to transfer patients into accident and emergency departments due to overcrowding. This further reduces their capacity to deal with other emergencies.
The 2014 HIQA report shows that people from west Roscommon must, on average, wait the longest for an ambulance to arrive. The new ambulance service based at Loughglynn in west Roscommon is being operated by a crew from Roscommon town. We need to deal with the urgency of this matter. Loughglynn was identified as a particular black spot area, as per a 2014 HIQA report. It is not acceptable that no extra resources have been allocated to this area.
We cannot continue to build a health service supporting an urban centre. We know that medical treatments and procedures have become more specialised and centralised, which is really important in terms of delivering the best possible care for patients. However, we need people in rural areas to be able to access the services as quickly as possible to avail of these benefits.
We have seen the immense impact of the air ambulance service, which has been positive in terms of improving response times and getting critically ill patients to centres where they can be treated effectively. However, we need the air ambulance service to operate at night time.
The 2014 HIQA and Lightfoot reports provide stark evidence that urgent action is required. Additional ambulances and personnel must be directed towards areas of greatest need. There are real difficulties in rural areas and I ask the Minister of State to outline what the Government is currently undertaking in terms of an action plan, in particular in light of the recent Lightfoot report.
I thank the Senator for raising what is a very important matter, not only in her area but also nationally.
The National Ambulance Service has undergone a major programme of reform and innovation in recent years. The programme is ongoing. In 2016 additional funding of €7.2 million has been provided for the service which includes €2 million to fund new developments. The new funding has and will facilitate the recruitment of additional personnel, the acquisition of new technology, the initiation of the first phase of a hear and treat care pathway, expansion of the community first responder network and assist in the delivery of a children’s ambulance service. We are now deploying ambulances better.
The capacity review identifies a need for a very significant programme of investment in ambulance services. It is clear to me that a phased investment in a multi-annual programme involving manpower, vehicles and technology is required. In that context, A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to additional annual investment in ambulance personnel and vehicles.
I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. I am encouraged by the fact that the programme for Government sets out that there will be a multi-annual programme which will focus on providing an enhanced ambulance service, involving increased personnel, improved technology and improved ambulances. However, we are dealing with a very urgent issue, particularly in known identified black spots, as per the 2014 HIQA report. Again, I emphasise that west Roscommon, an area with which I am very familiar, is a known identified black spot and that we have not seen additional resources being provided in it. It is really important that that issue is dealt with as quickly as possible. We need to make sure the air ambulance service which, again, has been very effective has the capacity to operate at night time. That is critical in getting very ill patients to the centres where they need to be quickly. I thank the Minister of State for her contribution. I will continue to raise the issue and work with her on it.
I will convey the Senator's concerns about the position in Loughglinn and the additional resources required to the Department and the HSE. I will also convey her suggestion that the air ambulance service should be able to operate at night. It seems to make perfect sense and I will be very happy to convey it to those involved in the relevant areas.