Health Minister defends use of rapid response vehicles by paramedics
James Reilly says would not make sense to have vehicles locked up in a depot after hours
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly: The ambulance service ‘is under scrutiny in a way that has never happened before. Three reviews are taking place at present with a view to further improve our ambulance service.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Health James Reilly has defended paramedics’ use of rapid response vehicles.
He said there was an internal investigation and review under way about their use, but he said in the first three months of this year rapid response vehicles answered calls to more than 630 incidents and over 250 of these were outside working hours.
Dr Reilly was speaking in the Dáil during a debate on a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ motion on the controversy over response times for ambulances.
Concerns had also been raised about the use of rapid response vehicles, with claims that many of them were parked outside paramedics’ homes.
The Minister said of the 630 incidents responded to by the response vehicles, “that’s an average of seven responses a day, almost three of which have been outside working hours”.
He added: “So it wouldn’t make sense to have these vehicles locked up in a station somewhere and having the officer concerned having to drive a distance to get the vehicle to do the call – in the same way that we don’t have people on call at home any more. We have them either in the depot or sitting in the ambulance waiting to go.”
The Minister said the ambulance service “is under scrutiny in a way that has never happened before. Three reviews are taking place at present with a view to further improve our ambulance service.”
He also said he was aware of the concerns raised about the future of the service. “I want to assure those concerned that I fully appreciate the long and proud tradition of service provided by Dublin Fire Brigade to residents of Dublin.” He said the review “is not in any way a negative reflection on that service, rather it is a means to establish the best way forward in light of the move to a single dispatch system”.
The Minister also hit out at claims by Fianna Fáil’s John Browne that regularly there were “hour-long” turn
around times for ambulances in his constituency to respond to calls.
Dr Reilly said that in March the average response time in Wexford for ambulances was 22 minutes and 42 seconds. A response time of “one to two hours” occurred only in 5 per cent of cases, he said.
Introducing the motion, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said it was clear the ambulance service was under-resourced and overstretched. “It is servicing a population of 4.6 million people. It hasn’t the capacity to deliver a safe, effective and efficient service.”
He told Dr Reilly: “What you are doing is you are putting people’s lives at risk by not resourcing it and you are putting huge stress and pressure on the personnel.”
Mr Kelleher said there was a “palpable fear” and people did not know if they were involved in an accident if they would get an ambulance in a reasonable time.
Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said there should be a “buck- stopping mechanism” for senior management. He said people blamed the Government or “this or that Minister” for failings, but he said there were senior management on high salaries who should be made responsible for failures.