Ambulances missing HSE response time targets

Crews in some areas reach fewer than half of life-threatening cases within target times

Dublin Fire Brigade provides Emergency Ambulance Services for Dublin city and county. Colm Murphy is one of their most experienced Advanced Paramedics and in this interview with Kitty Holland he talks about his job. Video: Bryan O'Brien

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 07:42

New data reveals serious problems with ambulance response times, with crews in some parts of the country reaching fewer than half of life-threatening incidents within the HSE’s own target time.

In the southeast region in December just 45 per cent of 999 calls made in respect of patients who were in cardiac or respiratory arrest (termed Echo calls) were responded to within 19 minutes, when the HSE’s own target means it hopes to reach 70 per cent of such emergencies within that timeframe.

In the west in December only 52 per cent of such calls were responded to within 19 minutes, while in the northeast the figure was 53 per cent.

In the northwest and southwest in the same month, these types of calls were responded to within 19 minutes in 62.5 per cent of cases.

Other regions have fared better – in the midwest the target was met in 80 per cent of instances in December; in the midlands it was met in 81 per cent of cases; and in the east 100 per cent of the time.

The figures obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act come as the HSE’s National Ambulance Service (NAS) comes under increasing scrutiny for its failure to respond to life-threatening incidents in timeframes set by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), and signed up to by the HSE. Following a series of such incidents in recent months Hiqa has been asked to complete a review of the ambulance service as a matter of urgency by Minister for Health James Reilly.

It has also emerged that in 2012 the HSE’s target was to respond to 80 per cent of Echo calls within 19 minutes, and that it lowered this target to 70 per cent in 2013.

Meanwhile, documents released by Hiqa show the former director of the NAS, Robert Morton, warned in late 2011 that ambulance response time targets being drawn up by the authority could not be achieved without an additional 400 staff and an investment of an extra €30 million. In early 2012 he told Hiqa “no extra resources” were forthcoming that year.

Asked about ambulance response times not meeting targets, the director of the NAS, Martin Dunne, said “we never have enough [ambulances and paramedics]”.

“There are a finite number of resources and they are deployed as best they possibly can with the sickest patient in mind at all times . . . The NAS has probably one of the best ambulance services in the world and is going to continue to improve,” he said.

A capacity review had “just started” which would look at resources. Staffing in the NAS had increased since 2011 by 115 to 1,650, he added.