Absenteeism blamed for shortage in ambulances
The National Ambulance Service has defended the level of emergency cover in Clare last weekend - blaming short-term absenteeism for difficulties providing a full service.
Ennis town, with a catchment area of over 40,000 people, was left with just half its usual ambulance cover on Saturday and Sunday nights.
The entire of west Clare had no emergency ambulance cover for several hours on Saturday night.
And the county's only rapid response vehicle (RRV), operated by specially trained advanced paramedics, was also removed from service at the weekend.
Based in Ennis, but covering the whole county, the RRV service was specifically put in place when the A&E department in Ennis was closed in 2009.
In a statement, that ambulance service said: "The ambulance service is not operated on a county basis, but on a regional and national basis where patients needs are met through providing the most appropriate and closest resource based on clinical prioritisation."
The NAS said that there was only one emergency ambulance operational in Ennis, with an emergency ambulance in Kilrhush, on Saturday night.
It said this was due to "short-term absenteeism".
It added: "The RRV was available and on duty on Sunday night.
"There was no impact on any calls during this period in Ennis.
"We are committed to maintaining this level of service to the people of the Mid West," the spokesman said.
One paramedic said, however: "This is NAS playing with words yet again".
"It's easy to say now there was no impact on calls at the weekend - but what if there was a serious crash or major incident in some part of the county?
"And if something big happened outside of Clare, it is our crews who would have been sent - and that would have left the county further short of cover."
Paramedics have already warned of possible industrial action as they struggle to provide an emergency service with a shortage of up to 19 staff.
The Chair of the HSE's Health Forum West Tom McNamara said he's not "a bit surprised by the response they (NAS) have given."
"We've heard over the past number of years how they were going to improve the ambulance service when the A&E in Ennis was closed.
"We were given cast iron guarantees about the ambulance service that would be available but this hasn't happened," Cllr McNamara said.
"The ambulance service said they would have an eight-minute response to calls but it's looking more like an eight-hour response the way they are going," he added.
"What happened at the weekend in Clare is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow a situation like that continue in Clare because lives are being put at risk," he added.
NAS has confirmed that it currently has vacancies in Clare.
It said that it has just completed a national recruitment campaign, and has commenced an international search for qualified paramedics.