Centralised approach aims to improve service

The National Ambulance Service is under review after a series of problems

Among improvements to the ambulance fleet,  vehicles have locater systems installed

Among improvements to the ambulance fleet, vehicles have locater systems installed

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 01:01

A press conference last December dealt with the independent review of the National Ambulance Service response to the Vakaris Martinaitis tragedy in Midleton, Co Cork.

The 23-month-old child died of severe head injuries after falling from an upstairs window at the family home in Midleton in May last year. An ambulance en route was stood down as the despatcher believed the boy had simply fallen in the garden, rather than having fallen into the garden.

NAS director Martin Dunne was asked at the press conference about the problem of ambulances going to the wrong addresses.

“We’ve updated all our mapping systems and are continuing to update them to the latest available,” he said. “The vehicles have locater systems which will locate them to within 50m while we will also be introducing digital radio technology.”

Mr Dunne said that as a result of the changes and the investment in the latest technology, he would be “very, very confident that we won’t have ambulances going to the wrong locations ever again” – a clear acknowledgement that this had been a problem for the service.

While there may have been problems with ambulances going to wrong addresses in the past, the problem seems to have become exacerbated, or at least is highlighted more, over the last year as the NAS is reconfigured. It is now moving from a service with 13 control centres to one control centre at two sites.

One national centre

In January, Laverne McGuinness of the HSE told an Oireachtas

Committee on Health that the move to one national operations centre would enable control staff to monitor every single ambulance in the service so the ambulance nearest the scene could be dispatched.

Calls are currently taken by the Emergency Call Answering Service operated by BT, where the caller is asked for the particular emergency service and their location before the call, in the case of medical emergencies, is transferred to the relevant ambulance control centre.

There are currently six ambulance control centres, at Tullamore, Wexford, Castlebar, Limerick, Ballyshannon and at Townsend Street in Dublin.

However, it is planned to centralise all operations by 2015 at a new national ambulance control centre operating at Tallaght, Dublin, and Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.

According to the HSE, the new set-up will ensure a single contact point for all 112/999 calls and will reduce the potential for error regarding boundaries and areas, which in the past have not always led to the nearest available ambulance being dispatched to an incident.