Thursday, 2 March 2017
Ambulance Service Accommodation
I thank the Minister of State. At this stage, she is probably fed up listening to me talk about the few issues I constantly raise. I am always bringing the Minister of State back because I firmly believe that there is no follow-up. When a Minister comes to the Chamber and we receive the answer, there is no follow-up from the health boards or the Department of Health. That is a major issue for me.
This matter relates to the paramedics and the prefabs where they are based in Carlow. Following the health and safety audit that was carried out on the prefabs in which the Carlow paramedics and ambulance service are located, the prefabs were condemned and deemed unfit for purpose. In light of this, I ask the Minister of State to give me an update on the situation. As she will appreciate, the ambulance and paramedic staff constitute a vital asset to Carlow and the south east. They provide assistance and support to local communities, especially at times of illness or tragedy. Carlow ambulance service has 18 staff, four women and 14 men, who are based in two prefabs. A small bit of work has been done. When I first spoke to the Minister of State, the prefabs had been deemed unfit. There were sewerage problems and only one shower for the 18 staff. Although they are not all on duty at the same time, they need at least two or three showers in these locations. The other issue I addressed is the fact that the stores are in a totally different building that is located away from the prefabs. On winter evenings, this puts these paramedics and other staff in a very vulnerable position. A few months ago, another health and safety audit was carried out and, again, the accommodation was deemed unfit for purpose.
There is regular, ongoing health and safety training for paramedics and they do an excellent job. I compliment the 18 paramedics and ambulance staff in Carlow on their work. While some work has been done, it is unsuitable. There is a massive hospital called St. Dympna's Hospital which has some empty rooms. On the previous occasion, the Minister of State said she was considering putting in another prefab. Would she consider putting them in the building? How much work has been done? We are dealing with taxpayers' money here. These paramedics are great people and they come across so many vulnerable and very sick people. What is the update? Hopefully the Minister of State will have some good news for me. I thank her for coming back in again.
Before I read the reply, I want to reassure the Senators that when I take Commencement matters, I make it my business to go back to the Minister and speak to him personally.I am sorry if Senator Murnane O'Connor has not received a response.
I will follow up on the matter. I will set out the response on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, I wish to thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the Carlow ambulance base. As the Senator is aware, there have been difficulties recently with a prefabricated building that forms part of the station facilities at Carlow ambulance base, which is situated on the grounds of St. Dympna's Hospital.
Following a review undertaken as part of a health and safety audit, urgent remedial works were carried out to ensure the immediate safety of the ambulance base. These remedial works have been completed with the exception of fitted furnishings in the kitchen and the installation of new staff lockers. I understand that this work is ongoing and is soon to be finished.
While the base is functional at present, the national ambulance service has engaged with the HSE estates division with a view to finding new premises for the Carlow ambulance base. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has been advised that agreement has now been reached in respect of a building situated at Elm Court, also on the grounds of St. Dympna's Hospital, that will be converted and modified to provide a new home for the Carlow ambulance base. It is estimated that the cost of this work will be approximately €300,000. Works will commence later this year and are expected to be completed in early 2018. The works will be funded from the minor capital programme.
The Minister, Deputy Harris, has been assured by the national ambulance service that there will be no disruption to the provision of emergency ambulance services to the people of Carlow during the transition to the new base. The House will be aware that the national ambulance service has undergone a significant process of modernisation in recent years and a number of important initiatives and developments have taken place. We have established the national emergency operations centre and provided improved technology to improve response times. We have developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers. This frees up emergency ambulances for the more urgent cases. Of course we have also established a permanent emergency aeromedical support service to provide more timely response to persons in rural areas.
The ambulance reform programme is taking place against the backdrop of the HIQA review of ambulance services, which was published in late 2014, and the national ambulance service capacity review, which was published in 2016. The capacity review, which was undertaken by Lightfoot Solutions, a UK-based consultation firm, examined all ambulance resource levels and distribution against demand and activity. Implementation of the recommendations of the capacity review will require a multi-annual programme of phased investment in ambulance manpower vehicles and technology. To this end, increased funding has been made available to the national ambulance service for 2017.
The Senator referred to another point. I will get more final dates in respect of the fitted furnishings in the kitchen and the installation of new staff lockers. I was unable to get the information this morning on the way to the Chamber, although I requested it.
Bearing in mind, Senator, that the Minister of State was here, I have accepted fully her bona fides on the basis that she is not the line Minister. I think you might progress matters if someone in the office of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or another senior member of staff were to contact you directly.
I thank the Minister of State. She has always been most courteous in the House. I probably have her tormented. Anyway, this is a good news story for Carlow. I thank the Minister of State. I am delighted with this good news.
You are right, a Chathaoirligh. It is a question of the follow-up. I am constantly bringing up matters but I am not getting much feedback.