Connemara GP warns Minister for Health about lack of ambulances

Rural lives at risk due to ambulance delays and oxygen tank scarcity, claims doctor

 Minister for Health Simon Harris: Dr Peter Sloane has written to him to say people will die needlessly in rural areas if more resources are not provided for ambulances and emergency equipment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Health Simon Harris: Dr Peter Sloane has written to him to say people will die needlessly in rural areas if more resources are not provided for ambulances and emergency equipment. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A south Connemara GP has said he thought a 60-year-old man was “going to die in front of me” during a wait of nearly an hour for an ambulance last weekend.

Dr Peter Sloane said he has had to wait for up to two hours for ambulances for patients in the recent past, and he had frequently provided patients with oxygen which he and other rural GPs purchased themselves.

He has warned Minister for Health Simon Harris that people will die needlessly in rural areas if more resources are not provided for ambulances and emergency equipment.

He said the lack of ambulance cover is so bad at times that the Air Corps helicopter air medical service is despatched at far greater cost to the State. In last weekend’s emergency, involving a man with an acute condition who became seriously ill at the side of the road, the helicopter could not fly as the incident occurred at night.

In a letter to the Minister, which he also sent to the five Galway West TDs and which was highlighted on Raidió na Gaeltachta, Dr Sloane said an ambulance base at An Cheathrú Rua (Carraroe) is frequently “unstaffed/unmanned”.

Life-threatening

“On the evening of Saturday, May 27th, at approximately 11.30pm, a call was placed for an emergency blue-light ambulance,” he wrote. “This was for an absolute potentially life-threatening acute illness in a 60- year-old man.

“If an ambulance had been in Carraroe, it would have been with the gentleman in approximately 10 minutes.

“Unfortunately, as is frequently the case, no ambulance staff were available in Carraroe and the estimated arrival time for the ambulance was 57 minutes.”

After the ambulance arrived, the patient was stabilised and transported to University Hospital Galway, he said.

Dr Sloane said he had attended the emergency on a dark road with his own equipment, and gave the patient oxygen which he had paid for.

“Would you consider it acceptable for a member of your family to be given an estimated time of arrival of an ambulance of 57 minutes for a life-threatening emergency anywhere in this State?” he asked Mr Harris in his letter.

“Such a waiting time will at some point result in an unnecessary death,” he warned. “In Scotland, rural doctors would be provided with an emergency kit.”

‘Resource issues’

He said “very simple resource issues” could be “rectified tomorrow” and could save money in the long term if the ambulance service was adequately staffed, and if rural GPs were given emergency kits.

Unlike GPs in co-ops, who can avail of equipment in stocked vans with drivers, rural doctors have no such support, he said.

The Health Service Executive said the National Ambulance Service received an emergency call for the Leitir Mór area of Co Galway on May 28th at two minutes past midnight.

“The nearest available emergency ambulance was dispatched to the incident and arrived at the scene at 00:55 hours,” it said in a response.

“The National Ambulance Service can confirm that equipment and supplies were provided by the NAS crew with the GP during this call,” it said.