Capital's ambulance service is 'dysfunctional', says HSE chief
Published 05/03/2010 | 05:00
THE Health Service Executive has finally accepted that the ambulance service in the capital is "incredibly dysfunctional".
There are two services running from the same control centre -- 55 HSE ambulances and 11 Dublin Fire Brigade ambulances -- but they have separate communications systems and separate management.
As a result, a recent study found the target of getting ambulances to the scene of an emergency in eight minutes or less was only being met 25pc of the time. In contrast, ambulances in Britain deal with life-threatening calls within eight minutes in 75pc of cases.
The Government and the HSE previously avoided admitting the scale of the problem in the ambulance service in Dublin. A highly critical report in 2005, which warned that patients were being put at risk by the lack of a single system for dispatching all emergency ambulances was never published.
Yesterday, HSE chief executive Professor Brendan Drumm said he accepted the criticisms of Labour TD Tommy Broughan, who described the system in Dublin, which also covers Kildare and Wicklow, as "incredibly dysfunctional".
"We're not here to defend the indefensible. Everything you said is true," he said.
The Public Accounts Committee heard that the HSE was planning to set up a single national ambulance control centre in a yet-to-be-decided location, with a back-up centre in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.
It has also bought an advanced medical-dispatch IT system and has almost agreed a memorandum of understanding with Dublin City Council -- which funds the Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance service with money from the HSE.
But HSE director of estates Brian Gilroy said the implementation of these plans was "tied up, unfortunately, in the public sector dispute". He said there was very little chance of progress being made until the dispute was solved.
The HSE ambulance service, then operated by the Eastern Health Board, and the Dublin Fire Brigade Service were brought together in the one command-and-control centre in Townsend Street in Dublin's city centre 12 years ago.
But the state spending watchdog, Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley, found in his annual report last year that there was still only "limited integration" between the two services. He said that this raised concerns about emergency response times and value for money.
And Mr Broughan said it was appalling that a situation could arise where the nearest ambulance could not be sent to someone who was "gravely ill".
Prof Drumm said it was unfair from a patient's perspective that the industrial action in the public sector was delaying the introduction of the state-of-the-art IT system for a national ambulance dispatch service.
But he said that the HSE had to be very careful not to take any action to "ratchet up" the dispute which could lead to a further escalation and affect patient services more.
"We are living in a very, very grey zone," he said.