Monday 9 December 2019

Ambulance delays due to 'increasing demand'

Ambulances at Wexford Hospital earlier this year
Ambulances at Wexford Hospital earlier this year

Simon Bourke

Less than one in ten ambulance crews arriving at Wexford General Hospital (WGH) this year were ready to accept another call-out 20 minutes later and thus failed to meet criteria set out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

According to (HIQA) the time interval from when an ambulance arrives at a hospital, to when the crew is ready to accept another call, should be no more than 20 minutes.

It has said all hospitals in Ireland should monitor the implementation of 95% of patients being handed over from an ambulance crew to the emergency department staff within this time frame, and where this is not met, corrective action should be taken.

However, figures acquired by Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly show that just 7.7% of ambulances arriving at WGH were ready to answer another call 20 minutes later.

Out of 636 ambulances to arrive at the hospital from January to September of this year only 49 met the guidelines set out by HIQA. This is down significantly from 2017 when 28.7% of ambulance crews were available to take another call-out within 20 minutes of their arrival.

To put these figures into context the national average so far this year is 15.9% meaning WGH is operating well below the standards of other hospitals.

However, Councillor Ger Carthy, who works as an Advanced Paramedic with the HSE, said these figures do not tell the whole story.

'Wexford has a similar resource pool to what it had 40 years ago, the same number of vehicles, same number of staff. These people are working extremely hard with an ever increasing demand from the service users.

'We have outstanding nursing care, doctor care, ambulance service here, it's just becoming ever more demanding.'

Describing it as a 'holistic' issue where the knock-on effect of additional patients impacts upon each different part of the hospital, Cllr Carthy said ambulance crews weren't being helped by a centralised control system which led to people who have requested the care doctor being sent an ambulance.

'Problem we have is we have is there's a centralised, control system. People are calling for a doctor and being sent an ambulance. Meanwhile, other people are calling out ambulances because they believe it will enable them to be seen first, but those days are coming to an end.'

Adding that talks were ongoing to provide extra resources for WGH, Cllr Carthy pointed to a system being trialed in Cork which he believes would benefit the people of Wexford.

'In Cork, they're trialing a system where a consultant travels with the ambulance from 12-8 p.m. He or she can then assess the condition of the patient and whether they need to travel to the hopsital or not. I don't see why Cork has this and we don't, if it's good enough for them it's good enough for us and I'd be calling on the CEO of Health Service Executive, Paul Reid to roll out a similar initiative here.'

While the HIQA criteria states that ambulance turnaround times should be 20 minutes or less, the HSE is less strict. It allows for a 30 minute turnaround and, like HIQA, states that 95% of crews should adhere to these guidelines.

Yet even allowing for this extra ten minute window turnaround times at WGH are still well below expectations. Less than a quarter (24.1%) of ambulances arriving at WGH made themselves available for another call within 30 minutes, down from 57.8% in 2017.

That equates to 154 of the 636 times an ambulance arrived at the hospital this year being ready for another call 30 minutes later. The national average under the HSE's 30 minute criteria is 37.1%.

Despite these figures WGH is not the worst performing hospital in the Ireland East Hospitals Group. St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny met the HIQA turnaround requirements 6.1% of the time this year and the HSE requirements just 18.3% of the time.

Nationally the worst performing hospital was Kerry University Hospital (1.7%) while the best performing was Temple St Children's Hospital (60.9%).

Wexford People

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