HSE told three years ago of dangerous ambulance doors
Another paramedic was seriously injured before latest fatal fall from vehicle
HEALTH authorities were warned three years ago that vehicles in the ambulance fleet were unsafe.
The revelation that the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) had been told that door locks in some vehicles posed a serious risk to passengers came a day after a paramedic lost his life when he fell from a moving ambulance on Thursday.
Other safety concerns raised by paramedics and relayed to the HSE and HSA have also been revealed in the wake of the death of father-of-six Simon Sexton in Co Cavan.
Mr Sexton's death came after another incident three years ago in which paramedic Declan McCrohan almost lost his life, suffering severe head injuries in a fall from an ambulance in Co Kerry.
The HSE was unable to give details of measures taken after a review of the 2007 incident but said a decision had been made not to take ambulances off the road at the time.
It will not take any decision on withdrawing ambulances from service after the latest tragedy until the findings of separate probes by gardai, the HSA and the HSE into the recent incident are published.
A spokesperson said it would "await the outcome of further investigations to see what measures should be taken".
SIPTU's ambulance branch in the southwest said it had raised concerns about the fleet with the HSE and the HSA following the 2007 incident.
Branch organiser for the ambulance service in Kerry and Cork, Ted Kenny, said he was horrified to hear of Mr Sexton's death.
Three investigations have been launched into the incident that is believed to have happened when the father of six fell from a door while the vehicle was moving.
Mr Kenny said he had previously notified the authorities about his concerns regarding the way some ambulance sidedoors closed.
He said the fact they opened out from a hinge on the opposite side of the doorframe to the average car left them in danger of catching the wind and dragging passengers out.
Referring to the incident in Kerry, Mr Kenny asked: "Why didn't action take place since then that could have saved the life of a paramedic in Cavan?
"We would be horrified to think this man may have lost his life from a situation we raised three years ago."
He said the door locking system was not the only issue raised about a fleet of ambulances which was bought about three years ago for €2.5m less than it would have cost from an Irish supplier. Mr Kenny said ambulance staff had a number of fears about the design of the ambulances which were raised at the time, including:
- The door locking system, which differed to other ambulances.
- Lack of a window on the right side of the ambulance meant passengers could not climb out in the event of a crash.
- A railing was available on one side only when hoists were lowered to pick up patients.
- An alarm didn't sound when doors were ajar.
He said he was aware of cases where cameras enabling drivers to see what is happening behind them did not work in some ambulances in Kerry.
"There are widespread problems with ambulances that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency," he said.
A close-knit community was in shock yesterday following the paramedic's death.
It is understood he was travelling in an ambulance transferring a non-emergency patient from Cavan Hospital to Dublin.
Mr Sexton came from a well-known farming family and was a keen member of the local theatre group in Stradone, Co Cavan. Fianna Fail councillor Gerry Murphy said: "He just had a heart of gold -- a typical Irish country fellow."
SIPTU branch organiser Jim Mullery said the accident had traumatised ambulance personnel across the health service.
Gardai at Cavan have appealed for witnesses to the incident. Mr Sexton's funeral will take place at St Patrick's Church, Carrickallen, Co Cavan, tomorrow.