A SENIOR Kerry based paramedic has claimed that the National Ambulance Service (NAS) is playing 'Russian roulette' in south Kerry with a downgraded service that is putting lives at risk.
Speaking to The Kerryman on Monday, the paramedic further claimed that the people of Killarney only had themselves to blame after the town's second ambulance was replaced by an Intermediate Care Vehicle in October and the remaining ambulance left to cover Millstreet as well.
Highlighting five occasions over a 10 day period - April 3 to April 13 - during which ambulances in Killarney and Kenmare were dispatched to other areas, the paramedic claimed the situation had left vast parts of south Kerry without any nearby ambulance.
"On Saturday night, for instance, there were three call-outs in Millstreet, two were attended by the Killarney ambulance and the third by the Kenmare ambulance. At one stage both these ambulances were at hospital in Cork waiting for a hand-over, leaving Killarney and Kenmare wide open."
Millstreet, which previously had an ambulance service, is now served by a rapid response vehicle. However on Saturday, April 12, that vehicle was sent to cover a shift in Clonakilty. At the same time the Kanturk based ambulance was en route to Dublin with a heart patient, leaving the Duhallow region with no local ambulance and no option but to depend on help from Kerry.
The paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, also referred to another instance in which the Kenmare ambulance attended an incident Tralee as it was the nearest available ambulance. And on a further occasion that same week, he claimed that while the Killarney ambulance was out Kenmare's ambulance was transferred to Killarney but subsequently diverted to Macroom as that ambulance had gone to Cork.
"It's Russian roulette, they're taking ambulances from Killarney and Kenmare into Millstreet, taking Tralee into Killarney and so on. At some point somebody is going to have an accident or an incident in the wrong place and people will die," the paramedic claimed.
"There is a perception that we are anxious to hold onto our jobs. People need to be quite clear that our jobs are secure, permanent jobs, all we're trying to do is make people aware that the service is being cut for cost saving."
Referring to a public meeting on the ambulance service in Killarney in September, which was attended by just seven people, the paramedic claimed this was a significant factor in the decision making process.
"The people of Killarney let themselves down. Over 300 people turned up in Kenmare, there were big meetings in Skibbereen and it's no coincidence that both kept their ambulance but Killarney and Millstreet have sat and watched the most critical service available being taken away. If they dial 999 and they don't get an ambulance they have nobody to blame but themselves, so the local elections is an ideal platform to take a stand."
Senator Mark Daly labelled the situation "critical" and called on the public to stand up and fight to restore their services, adding that the findings of a National Ambulance Service (NAS) review of the changes should be made public.
Deputy Michael Healy Rae said the Killarney ambulance was de facto on call in Cork City when attending A&E and said the health minister was "hiding" behind the HSE and failed to understand the complexity of Kerry's geography. He claimed that on April 15 alone the Killarney ambulance left Kerry to attend calls in Cork on four occasions.
The comments follow an article in The Kerryman of April 9 which highlighted in incident in east Kerry in which a woman waited three quarters of an hour for an ambulance and died in hospital later that night.
"This woman shouldn't have had to wait more than 10 minutes if the ambulance was at its base in Killarney," Cllr Danny Healy Rae said afterwards.
"It is not good enough that the vulnerable and sick are being hit - you can get a vet out quicker to a cow calving than an ambulance to someone who is sick," he added.
The NAS has responded by saying it provides a safe and patient-centred service, adding that it continuously evaluates its services aligned to available resources and activity levels throughout the Southern area.
"The NAS is not a static service and as such deploys its resources in a dynamic manner. The NAS works on an area and national basis as opposed to a local basis. The dynamic deployment of ambulance resources ensures that the nearest appropriate resource is mobilised to the location of the incident," a spokesperson told The Kerryman.
NAS Area Operations Manager William Merriman said last year it was the intention of the NAS to review the services in the three months post changes, adding that he would be happy to attend a future forum or committee meeting to discuss his findings.