‘Significant delays’ expected in ambulance service due to increased pressure

Public urged to consider ‘alternative pathways’ in medical emergencies

A representative for the National Ambulance Service has called on the public to consider “alternative pathways” in medical emergencies because there could be “significant delays” in response times.

Brendan Flynn told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland that the ambulance service was under increased pressure. This was not new at Christmas and into the new year, he said, but Covid has exacerbated the crisis.

A record number of cases – 20,554 – was reported for the fourth day this week on Thursday, but chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said capacity issues in the Covid testing system could mean the number of new cases was actually in excess of 30,000.

The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 rose to 682 on Friday, up from 619 on Thursday. There are 88 people being treated with the virus in intensive care.


Meanwhile, new isolation rules are also being introduced so that those who contract Covid-19 and who have received a vaccine booster at least seven days previously – or those who are double-vaccinated and had the disease – only have to isolate for seven days instead of 10.

The ambulance service is now at level-three surge capacity which means it is asking staff on annual leave to return to work if they can cancel their plans. Staff on sick leave are also being asked to “get back as quickly as they can” to “put as many ambulances on the road as practically possible”, Mr Flynn said.

Mr Flynn said the current pressure on the service meant that “unfortunately” there would be delays, adding that “chronic underinvestment” of the ambulance service in recent years was at fault.

Compared with other international ambulance services Ireland did not have the staff numbers to meet demand, he said. “We just need more resources, it’s as simple as that.”

On the delays, Mr Flynn said that life-threatening emergency calls would be prioritised but “lower-acuity calls” could be left waiting “a significant amount of time”.

“We will do everything we can to respond to all emergency calls,” he said.

Mr Flynn advised the public to consider all their options before calling 999 or 112. “There are other options available,” he said, as not all emergency calls required an ambulance.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t want people to call an ambulance for life threatening emergencies.”

If people had a chest pain or the signs or symptoms of a stroke, they should call an ambulance, Mr Flynn said. The fear was that the people who most needed an ambulance would not call for one, he added.

Hospital pressure

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on Thursday called on the Health Service Executive to publish and implement a "plan B for dealing with the capacity crisis that is escalating within our public acute hospital system" as it emerged that 287 patients were waiting on trolleys across the country.

“From experience we know that if there are 287 patients for whom there is no bed in a hospital on December 30th, we know that figure will be tripled in early January,” general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said it was tie to scale back to emergency activity only in all hospitals. “Our public health service is too small to try provide emergency care, Covid care and carry out elective treatments. Urgent elective work must be prioritised through the private hospital system.”