Ambulances are waiting one hour and 15 minutes on average at hospitals in the South/Southwest Hospital Group (SSWHG) before being able to declare themselves ready to accept another call, The Echo can reveal.
Ambulance turnaround times involve the amount of time from the ambulance arrival time to when the crew declares the readiness of the ambulance to accept another call.
Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that, on average, ambulance turnaround times have increased nationally from around 43 minutes last year to 52 minutes in the first nine months of 2022.
The HSE’s target turnaround time meanwhile, is just 30 minutes.
The South Southwest Hospital Group (SSWHG), which includes the likes of Cork University Hospital (CUH) and the Mercy, recorded the longest average ambulance turnaround times in 2021 (57:35) and in 2022 so far (1:15:40).
In March this year, ambulances were forced to wait on average more than one hour and 23 minutes at hospitals in the SSWHG before getting back on the road again.
Speaking to The Echo, Stephen McMahon, co-founder of the Irish Patients Association (IPA), said that, while steps are being taken to improve patient flow through emergency departments (EDs), this revelation regarding turnaround times is yet another example of deteriorating conditions.
Mr McMahon added that the increase in emergency ambulance turnaround times nationally signals a further exposure to risk for patients in the community.
Mr McMahon stated that the latest figures mean the National Ambulance Service (NAS) would have to more than double its fleet in the SSWHG to meet the 30-minute turnaround target.
“We appreciate the great work that our emergency responders do and those who work in overcrowded EDs - this deterioration is not their fault,” he added.
A spokesperson for the HSE said:
“One of the most significant challenges for the health service is the extremely high levels of ED attendances and the high number of people who need to be admitted to hospital for ongoing treatment.” So far this year, more than one million 1,066,641 people have attended EDs around the country, according to the HSE.
Comparing 2019 to date in 2022, there has been a 5.36 percent increase overall in ED attendances.
the HSE spokesperson explained.
“This means that patients requiring less urgent care may have to wait longer times to be seen and this includes patients who arrive by ambulance, not requiring emergency and urgent care.
“NAS and ED staff work together to ensure patients are transferred to hospital care as quickly and as safely as possible.
“To alleviate the pressures in emergency care, a range of initiatives are already being implemented as part of the National Service Plan, including additional capacity in terms of beds, staffing and strengthening Community Care Teams,” they added.
As part of winter planning, the HSE has developed a plan to support acute and community services to respond to anticipated high levels of emergency attendances and admissions.
Funding of just over €169 million has been assigned to implement these measures over 2022 and 2023, including the delivery of additional capacity in acute and community service and the roll out of the vaccination programme for flu and Covid-19.
The SSWHG was contacted for comment.