Remoteness of Achill no hindrance to emergency health service

 

Despite the location, more than 40 miles from the nearest acute hospital, Achill Island in Co Mayo is now one of the safest places in Ireland in which to suffer a heart attack.

The reason is the recruitment by the Western Health Board of trained volunteers willing to team up with island general practitioners when coronary emergencies arise.

Emergency teams based at St Fionnan's Community Nursing Unit on Achill Sound have the latest defibrillator equipment. They can respond quickly to a 999 call from anywhere on the island. Previously, it could have taken up to an hour for an ambulance to arrive.

According to Dr Sean Conroy, regional manager for corporate affairs and population health with the Western Health Board, the CARE (Community Action in Response to Emergencies) scheme is an innovative response to the need to improve pre-hospital care in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

The 353,000 inhabitants of these three counties live in an area bigger than Northern Ireland, and it would never be possible to have an ambulance at the scene of all heart attacks within five to 10 minutes.

Dr Conroy said: "The average round trip for a 999 call is 50 miles, and even if the number of ambulance bases was trebled, there would still be emergencies that would take more than 15 minutes to get to. Added to this, the board has an island population."

The three GPs on Achill, Dr Paddy Lineen, Dr Bernadette O'Leary and Dr Edward King, are all enthusiastic participants in the programme. Dr O'Leary estimates that there are between 20 and 30 coronary emergencies every year on the island, which has a resident population of 2,500. The population can more than double during the peak tourist period.

Welcoming the new initiative, Dr O'Leary said it was appropriate to pay tribute to the local Order of Malta, who have been providing a 24-hour response to emergencies on the island since 1996; to Croi, the West of Ireland Cardiology Foundation, who presented family doctors on Achill with a defibrillator and other diagnostic equipment in 1995; and to the ambulance service in Castlebar.

Achill Island is the second area to become involved in the CARE programme. The Mountbellew/Moylough area of Co Galway, where 29 volunteers underwent a 40-hour programme in emergency care, pioneered the service.

Mr Joe Foy, chief ambulance officer with the Western Health Board, says the survival chances of heart-attack patients on Achill Island will be greatly enhanced by the new service. The golden standard is a "call to shock" interval of less than five minutes.

"This is just the beginning. We need to replicate this model for the west of Ireland and our offshore communities."