AMBULANCES are being put out of action for up for three hours while they wait outside A&E departments for trolleys to be returned.
National Ambulance Service's (NAS) medical director Dr Cathal O'Donnell told a meeting in Killarney that delays outside A&E departments were occurring nationally.
Ambulance personnel cannot leave the hospital until the trolley, or gurney, used to transport a casualty to A&E has been returned, leaving it unavailable to respond to another call.
The meeting with elected representatives, which was not open to the public or the media, heard these delays could often put the ambulance out of service for periods up to three hours.
The meeting also heard that on three occasions over the previous five weeks there was no ambulance available in Killarney between 1am and 6am.
In October, Killarney lost its on-call emergency ambulance, leaving it with only one full-time ambulance and an intermediate care vehicle (ICV) driven by emergency medical technicians.
Although the ICV can transport up to five patients and can attend the scene of an accident, it cannot be used in an emergency to bring a casualty from the scene to hospital.
Millstreet in Co Cork also lost its ambulance which means the Killarney ambulance deals with emergencies there. Local representatives claim this leaves Killarney exposed and relying on another ambulance from Tralee or Kenmare.
The meeting also heard the amount of emergency calls for Kerry increased from 4,218 for 2012 to 4,234 in eight months from January to August 2013.
The NAS said its target was to deal with emergency calls in an 18-minute time-frame but they only reached this target 50pc of the time in Kerry.
Senator Mark Daly, who attended the meeting, said a request to find out what the response time was for the 50pc of cases where the target was not met was not answered.
"We wanted to know what was the response time for the worst 10pc of cases but we did not get that information," he said. "There was also no proposal from them to restore the second ambulance to Killarney."
Local representatives say they fear the realignment of the ambulance service has never been properly tested and they worry about how adequate it will be to cover the town during the tourist season. But a public meeting on the ambulance service in September was attended by only seven people. A similar meeting in Kenmare had an attendance of more than 300 people.