Dublin patients ‘at serious risk’ over ambulance delays

Callers were needlessly left waiting up to eight minutes because of ‘convoluted’ processes

Current arrangements for handling emergency ambulance calls in the capital can result in a delay of ‘crucial minutes’, Hiqa said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Current arrangements for handling emergency ambulance calls in the capital can result in a delay of ‘crucial minutes’, Hiqa said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Patients in Dublin are at serious risk of life-threatening delays when calling an ambulance due to a lack of coordination between services, a report warns.

Current arrangements for handling emergency ambulance calls in the capital can result in a delay of “crucial minutes” due to a lack of integration between Dublin Fire Brigade and the National Ambulance Service (NAS), according to the report by the State’s health watchdog.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) says the status quo puts patients at risk and cannot be allowed to continue. Senior decision-makers have to ensure there is a clear plan for the future of ambulance services in Dublin that provides the safest possible service for patients.

This will involve long-term decisions around resolving call handling and dispatch arrangements by Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) and the NAS to prevent delays, the report says.

The report is a review of progress made in implementing a 2014 Hiqa report on the ambulance service. Pointing to the lack of coordination between the two ambulance services in Dublin, it found callers to DFB were being left needlessly waiting up to eight minutes for an ambulance because of “convoluted” internal processes.

The NAS provides ambulance services nationwide, except in Dublin, where it performs a back-up role to the DFB. Several reports have called for the integration of the two services, but this is resisted by the DFB, whose members are currently threatening to strike over a plan to unify the call centres of the two organisations.

The report published Friday says progress has been made in improving ambulance services nationally, but serious issues remain in Dublin. It praises the move by the NAS to a single control centre over two sites as a major enhancement of services.

Mr Egan said significant shortcomings remain in Dublin the put patients at risk.

“While lines of communication, formal governance arrangements and working relationship at senior management level within the HSE and Dublin City Council were much improved, a detailed plan for the delivery of emergency ambulance services in the greater Dublin area still does not exist,” he said.

“It is, therefore, incumbent on those with overall governance responsibility for publicly-funded ambulance services in Ireland to ensure that there is a clear plan for the future of services in Dublin that is based on ensuring the safest and best possible service for patients.”