Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Ambulance Service Accommodation
This is my second time addressing the Minister of State on this issue so I will just go over why I have called her back for some answers today. Following the health and safety audit of the building in which Carlow ambulance and paramedic services were located, the building was condemned as it was deemed to be not fit for purpose. In light of this, I asked the Minister for Health for an alternative suitable location. As the Minister of State will appreciate, the ambulance and paramedic staff are a vital asset to Carlow and the south east and give great support to the community, particularly in times of illness and tragedy. The ambulance service in Carlow consists of 18 staff - four women and 14 men - and is based in two prefabs with no hot water, a leaking roof and a sewerage problem. The stores are located in a different building and as the Minister of State can imagine, having to cross over to a different building during winter evenings is not ideal and puts staff in a very vulnerable position.
On 20 October 2016, I addressed the health and safety audit carried out on the current building. The reply I received from the Minister of State in the Seanad was that works were planned to rectify the issues relating to the shower and the changing room facilities and that the depot was fully operational. I welcome the fact the depot in Carlow is still operational and I thank the ambulance and paramedic service for that because it is providing a great service. The Minister of State's reply referred to removing the 15-year old portakabin installed as a temporary measure 15 years ago, fixing the sewerage problem and replacing the portakabin with a new one. I told the Minister of State that something more permanent could be made available to the service. The ambulance and paramedic service in Carlow is located on the campus of St. Dympna's Hospital and in the past used the old day hospital in this complex as a temporary measure. Renovating this section of the building would be a far more suitable solution where not only the shower and changing room facilities would be addressed but a kitchen area and lockers could be provided. As the Minister of State is aware, the storage area is in a different building so this would mean a lot. Surely investing money in a new portakabin is not the long-term solution. All things considered, it would be a far wiser and more long-term investment to renovate this old building.
I also contacted the office of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government several times, including on 18 November when I looked for further clarification. Meetings with the paramedics and management have taken place and they have come together to address some of the concerns. My understanding is that the old prefab is now being done up. This is unacceptable. I do not think that in 2016, 18 ambulance drivers and paramedics should be left in a prefab that is 15 years old. When I originally addressed the Minister of State, she mentioned a new prefab but I believe there is no word of it. My understanding is that work is ongoing on the old prefab. The reason I called the Minister of State back to the House today is because I need confirmation about what is happening. I again compliment the paramedic staff because they do trojan work and are located in a building that is unfit for purpose.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health. I thank the Senator for raising the issue and giving me the opportunity to update the House on the ambulance base in Carlow.
The National Ambulance Service has experienced ongoing difficulties with a prefabricated building that forms part of the station facilities at Carlow ambulance base in the grounds of St. Dympna's Hospital. In response to concerns identified by staff and following a review undertaken as part of a health and safety audit, some deficiencies were identified. I understand that urgent remedial works were carried out to ensure the immediate safety of the ambulance base. While the base is functional at present, the National Ambulance Service has engaged with HSE estates in order to explore a number of options with regard to the Carlow base for the longer term, taking into consideration operational and staff requirements and associated costs of options considered. One of the options under consideration is remaining at St. Dympna's campus but in a different location. Depending on the length of time it will take to progress the permanent option, it may be necessary for the National Ambulance Service to rent a modern prefabricated structure as an interim solution. However. I am advised that management is engaged on a continuous basis with the staff at Carlow ambulance base. I have also been assured by the ambulance service that there will be no disruption to the provision of emergency ambulance services to the people of Carlow.The House is aware the National Ambulance Service has undergone a significant process of modernisation in recent years, and a number of important innovations and developments have taken place. We have established a national emergency operation centre and provided important technology to improve response times. We have developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acute hospital transfers, which frees up emergency ambulances for more urgent calls. We have also established the permanent emergency aeromedical support service to provide more timely responses to people in rural areas. We are looking at an alternative to the current model of care, which requires every patient to be brought to an emergency department. The options under consideration include hear and treat, whereby clinical advice is provided over the phone to callers who can than, if appropriate, be referred to other care pathways.
The ambulance reform programme is taking place against the backdrop of the HIQA review of the ambulance service published in 2014 and the National Ambulance Service capacity review published earlier this year. The review was undertaken by Lightfoot Solutions. The UK-based consultant firm examined overall ambulance resource levels and distribution against demands and activities.
Implementation of the recommendations of the capacity review will require a multiannual programme of phased investment in ambulance manpower, vehicles and technology. To this end, increased funding will be available to the National Ambulance Service for 2017. The details of the improvement will be provided in the HSE's 2017 national service plan which will be published shortly.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply, which is the same as the one I received more than a month ago. My real anger is with the HSE and the lack of information I receive from the Minister, Deputy Harris. I am constantly e-mailing but I am still none the wiser. Is the new prefab temporary? The Minister of State has said a different area of the St. Dympna's Hospital campus is being considered, but there is no clarification. I know small works have been done and I welcome this, but I am asking whether a new prefab will be put in place. Will the service be kept on the campus at St. Dympna's Hospital long term? What is the long-term plan? At present, I have no answers for the people I represent. This is the same answer I received previously, apart from the small works which have been done. Will the Minister of State clarify this for me?
There are some similarities in the reply, but a different location is being looked at on the campus. A temporary new prefab is also being considered because of the structural work that must be done. I am not familiar with the campus or the building being considered. It is very clear to me consultation has been taking place with the staff and services in Carlow. I will bring the Senator's remarks to the Minister and I hope she will get a more comprehensive reply.
I will relay to him there does not seem to have been any definite decision in the reply. I certainly will come back to the Senator on this. I apologise again, but there are a number of indications that something is happening. On a long-term basis, and with immediate effect, more decisions should be made more quickly. I will bring this back to the Minister.