Thursday 29 September 2016

Eilish O'Regan: Blaze just latest tragic incident for the service

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

The entrance of Naas General Hospital. Picture: Arthur Carron
The entrance of Naas General Hospital. Picture: Arthur Carron

Headlines about the country's ambulance service in recent years have sadly involved too many tragedies.

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Too often, the news has involved ambulances getting to the scene of a stricken patient too late to save them. They are frequently asked to achieve the impossible, particularly in rural areas.

The National Ambulance Service Representative Association has also repeatedly highlighted the age of several of the ambulances and the huge mileage clocked up.

It's fair to say the high-profile incidents have affected public confidence in the service.

Several investigations are now under way into the tragedy yesterday in Naas which destroyed an ambulance, leading to a patient death and two injured paramedics.

On initial reports, it appears it was accidental and not related to the state of the vehicle.

Ambulance staff close to the incident are understood to accept that this was a relatively new vehicle which was on the roads for less than a year.

The HSE issued a warning to all ambulance staff yesterday evening in the wake of the incident to check on the oxygen tanks they are carrying to minimise the risk of this happening again. It directed its supplier to undertake a programme of checks on the oxygen in ambulances. Staff were asked to re-familiarise themselves with the emergency ambulance evacuation procedures. And managers and staff have been asked to give priority to the safety notice.

An action plan for the ambulance service was drawn up by the HSE earlier this year on foot of a highly critical report.

Along with additional investment, the hope was that the service, which is so often at the centre of controversy, would see major improvements.

One of the most serious episodes in the past involved a number of ambulances which inexplicably went on fire.

The HSE had to commission an independent technical examination of the ambulances to find the cause of the blazes. Four vehicles out of a total fleet of 266 were damaged by fire between 2007 and early 2009.

It worked with the manufacturer of the ambulances to identify the cause of the fires.

Following a review of all vehicles and consultation with Mercedes, a remedial programme of engine modification had to be implemented for all similar vehicles and engines.

Modern ambulances have a lot equipment and technology on board. They could have six high-pressure oxygen tanks on board.

Some have high voltage to allow for intubators and advanced procedures that paramedics can administer. While oxygen is not combustible, it is a gas that is stored under pressure.

The investigations underway look set to examine if safety procedures need to be improved to minimise risks involved.

Irish Independent

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