‘Waiting for the ambulance was the most helpless I’ve ever felt’

Family of Maura Porter (70), from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, tell of 40-minute wait for help after she was hit by a car

Maura Porter (70), from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, died in Altnagelvin hospital in Derry shortly before midnight on December 30th last year.

She had been hit by a car about six hours earlier, about 200m from her home, and less than a kilometre from an ambulance base, as she was walking home from Mass.

Her son, Brendan, sat with her as she lay on her side on the road in the dark, holding her hands, praying with her, “reassuring her and trying to keep her alert” for 50 minutes while they waited for an ambulance to arrive from Letterkenny, 62km away.

"I was at home, getting a few things organised for work the next day," recalls Brendan, sitting in the front room of the family home at Carndonagh. "I got a call from a neighbour at about 5.55pm. My dad was down in the garden with the dog. The neighbour just said, 'Brendan your mother has been in a car accident. She's been knocked down'. I asked was it serious and he just said, 'Brendan, get down here'."

'Crying and upset'
As they waited for the ambulance, his father Neil was standing back "crying and upset" while his sister Davina was "roaring for an ambulance".


A large number of neighbours had gathered, and he was aware of a woman behind him on a mobile phone to the ambulance control centre. “She was excellent,” he says. “It was obvious at one stage they said they were going to hang up, because she said, ‘Don’t you dare hang up on me. If you hang up on me I am going to phone you back, and phone you back, and phone you back. We need an ambulance, and you need to listen to us’.”

According to the HSE, the first 999 call for an ambulance was received at 5.45pm and was triaged as a clinical status 1 delta (life-threatening) call.

According to standards set by the Health Information and Quality Authority and accepted by the HSE, a delta 1 emergency should have a first responder on-scene within seven minutes and 59 seconds and a patient- carrying ambulance within 18 minutes and 59 seconds.

The one ambulance rostered to be on duty at night at the Carndonagh base was not available. In March last year the number of ambulances based in Carndonagh was cut from three providing 175 hours a week to two providing 144 hours per week. Just one is on duty at a time.

As Mrs Porter lay injured, the nearest first-response paramedic and ambulance were despatched from Letterkenny and arrived, according to the HSE, 40 and 43 minutes respectively after the first 999 call was received.

"It was powerlessness," says Brendan. "It felt like hours. I could see it wasn't good for mammy . . .Waiting for that ambulance, it was the most helpless I've ever felt.

'Very serious'
"When the first-response guy arrived he put a canula into her neck. He was very fast-moving, very impressive. When the ambulance arrived the paramedics did everything they could. One of the drivers held my hand and he said five decades of the rosary."

Mrs Porter arrived in Altnagelvin hospital in Derry at 7.15pm, 90 minutes after the 999 call was received. She died at 11.45pm.

Minister for Health James Reilly, when asked about the incident in the Dáil on January 21st by Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North East Charlie McConalogue, said: "The National Ambulance Service has reviewed this call and is satisfied that the call was triaged correctly and that the nearest available resources were dispatched."

Brendan Porter says: “What we want, what we are entitled to, is an appropriate level of ambulance cover. We need more ambulances, more paramedics.

“It’s not rocket science. People are dying. We need ambulances in Inishowen, for Inishowen. An eight-year-old child could see that. Everyone has to be entitled to get to a hospital in time when they need it, no matter where they live.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times