Cork and Kerry ambulances 11 minutes behind target response times

It took ambulances 30 minutes on average to arrive at so-called Echo and Delta calls in the first six months of 2022, which is much slower than the target of 19 minutes
Cork and Kerry ambulances 11 minutes behind target response times

An ambulance outside the emergency department at CUH. Picture Denis Minihane.

Ambulances in the Southern region, which includes Cork, were 11 minutes behind their target response times to life-threatening callouts from January to June this year, new figures reveal.

It took ambulances 30 minutes on average to arrive at so-called Echo and Delta calls in the first six months of 2022, which is much slower than the target of 19 minutes.

Sinn Féin obtained the figures from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) following a recent parliamentary question from health spokesperson David Cullinane.

A Cork paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, said he wasn’t “one bit surprised by these figures”.

He cited a lack of personnel in Cork city and county which means that paramedics are often covering huge geographical distances for the increased average ambulance response time.

HUGE AREAS TO COVER

“HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) demand 19-minute response for the high-priority calls. Delta calls are being allocated to ambulances within 90 seconds which is the requirement, but those ambulances could be hours away,” he said.

The frontline worker said that members of NAS are doing calls all over the region.

“There were 11 ambulances from all over Cork, and even one from Limerick, outside the door of the CUH last Wednesday afternoon,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire criticised the Government’s failure to train and retain enough paramedics to safely staff the ambulance service.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said: “The ambulance service has been run into the ground over the last 10 years, and this is showing in average response times and patients’ experience.

“The average response time is up (to 30 minutes) from last year, when it was 26 minutes. Emergency callouts are taking longer because the ambulance service is understaffed,” he said.

The aim is for 50% of life-threatening Delta and 80% of Echo callouts to be responded to within 19 minutes.

Across the State, 71% of Echo (life-threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest) calls were responded to within the timeframe in June, while that drops to 39% of Delta (life-threatening non-cardiac or non-respiratory arrest) calls.

The Cork South Central representative said paramedics are exhausted.

“The ambulance service needs about 2,000 more paramedics in the next five years, and about half of them are needed now.

“We need to increase training places for paramedics and invest in the ambulance service to recruit and retain paramedics. Our priority needs to be creating a sustainable pipeline of trained paramedics to safely staff the ambulance service,” he added.

STATEMENT

A spokesperson for the National Ambulance Service (NAS) said: “The 18.59-minute target was originally recommended in 2012, as part of a report by Hiqa to the minister for health and the HSE under section 8(1)j of the Health Act 2007.

“The target applies to 50% of Delta calls and 80% of Echo calls, which account for less than half of all 999 calls.

“The National Ambulance Service also uses clinical KPIs to better measure patient outcomes, rather than just time-based targets, which are not supported by any clinical evidence and have limited clinical relevance.”

The spokesperson said that when demand exceeds available resources, calls to 999 and 112 are triaged and prioritised according to need.

NAS is also recruiting staff: “NAS is confident it will fill three classes with a total of 96 student paramedics for the September intake.

“Some 80 places have already been filled and other applications are awaiting Garda and occupational health clearances.”

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