A parent’s pain: ‘I still have his number in my phone’

Ahead of a three-part series on the ambulance service Kitty Holland talks to the parents of Wayne McQuillan

James and Bernadette McQuillan from Drogheda, Co. Louth talk about their son Wayne who died on January 1st this year, and express concerns about the waiting time for an ambulance on that night which had to come from Ardee. Video : Bryan O'Brien


Bernadette and James McQuillan’s son, Wayne, died on January 1st, at the age of 30. He had been stabbed in a house in the Rathmullen Park area of Drogheda, his home town, after midnight. He managed to make his way out before collapsing. Passersby, who found him bleeding profusely, phoned 999 at 1.46 am, asking both for the Garda and for an ambulance.

“They tried to help him as best they could,” says James, sitting in the front room of the home on Marian Park where Wayne lived with his parents. Photographs of Wayne and his older sister, Audrey, are everywhere, as are Wayne’s numerous trophies for darts and soccer.

A garda, James says, arrived within minutes and waited with the passersby for the ambulance. While they waited they made nine more, increasingly frantic, calls, which went to the National Ambulance Service control room in Dublin. Neither James nor Bernadette was there.

“The ambulance didn’t arrive for more than 40 minutes, we heard. As result of that the garda who came on the scene decided he had no choice but take him in the squad car to the hospital. In his opinion it was a life or death situation, and he couldn’t leave him any longer. We are very grateful to that garda.

“We found out that the ambulance had to come from Ardee, which would take at least half an hour. It was far too long to leave Wayne lying in a garden, bleeding.”

The HSE confirms that it received an emergency call from Rathmullen Park at 1.46 am. At the time, it says, the three nearest ambulances were on other calls, seven, six and two kilometres away.

It has since emerged that a fire engine whose crew had first-aid training was available in Drogheda at the time. But Dublin Fire Brigade, which dispatches Drogheda firefighters, was not contacted by the HSE dispatchers who sit in the same Dublin command and control room.

“In this case,” the HSE says, “the nearest available resource was a crew in Ardee, Co Louth,” 25km away. “This crew was immediately dispatched to the incident and arrived at 02.11hrs.”

By the time James and Bernadette arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, their son was in surgery.

“We didn’t see Wayne,” says James. “He must have been alive when he arrived at the hospital. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes.

“Naturally, you always hope for the best. But when we saw three doctors coming, we knew. They said, ‘We’re sorry. We couldn’t save him.’

“We are very disappointed with the way Wayne was treated by the HSE. We have no blame to put on to the paramedics. They’ve done all they could. There should have been basically a better ambulance service, that’s the bottom line.”

Wayne was his sister Audrey’s junior by 13 months. She “misses him an awful lot,” says James. “She’s not coping well. She’s finding it very hard. He was her only sibling. They were best friends.”

“It’s something that’s going to be with us for the rest of our lives. You wake in the morning and you . . .” James sighs. “I still have his number in my phone. You’re expecting him to ring. When you talk about him it all comes back. It’s very hard just to talk about him. He was our child.”