'Each time my father was resuscitated, there was less of him coming back'
A heartbroken son has described how his father waited over 17 minutes for an ambulance - though the family could see the hospital from their top window.
Dylan Berry from Wexford town revealed how his father Dan collapsed at their home last year, three minutes from Wexford General Hospital.
He commenced CPR on his father as he awaited the arrival of the ambulance, he told a Prime Time documentary broadcast on RTE last night which revealed the stark extent of the national crisis in which only a third of life-threatening cases saw an ambulance arrive within the target time of eight minutes.
Investigators told how patients in emergency situations face delays of up to an hour, while some parts of the country are left without ambulance cover.
Mr Berry continued mouth to mouth and chest compressions without abating - but each time his father was resuscitated, there was “less of him coming back,” Mr Berry said.
“In the first 11 to 12 minutes there was a lot of him left - he was still making an effort. There was a lot of life in him,” he said emotionally.
However the ambulance, which had to travel from Enniscorthy, did not arrive at their home until l7 minutes after his emergency call and his father was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“If I had been told on the first phone call that the ambulance was coming from Enniscorthy, I think my whole pattern of thought that morning would have been different,” Mr Berry said.
“More likely what I probably would have done was got my dad into the car and I would have been over to the hospital in three or four minutes. Less.”
Investigators exposed a situation where the number of emergency ambulances across the country has been dramatically reduced in the last five years - down from 320 ambulances in 2008 to 265 last year.
This means just 137 ambulances operate throughout Ireland by day and just 113 at night. The system is further pressured by a high rate of sick leave amongst ambulance staff.
Former emergency worker Brid Ryan Murphy told Prime Time how the constant pressure to spread Wexford ambulances across the county frequently leaves Wexford town without an ambulance.
While whistleblower ambulance controller Shirley McEntee said it “quite frustrating” when someone is waiting for an ambulance and you know they're in pain. She said most delays were caused by there being not enough crews and not enough vehicles on the road, admitting that she would be frequently “scrambling” for resources.
“At some point in a 24 hour period you would be scrambling for an ambulance in certain areas of this country,” she said.
The programme claimed expensive resources are under-used and wasted, such as Rapid Response Vehicles which cost the Irish taxpayer in excess of €100,000 each. Remarkably, the majority of these vehicles are allocated to managers and seemed to be more like company cars being used frequently for personal transport and are rarely used for emergency callouts, it was claimed.
The programme revealed that up to seven out of 10 people in Ireland with life-threatening conditions are not getting the services of ambulance paramedics within internationally accepted normal response times.
Lives are regularly put at risk because of the service’s inability to get to homes or accident scenes within target times. Long delays caused by a lack of locally-based ambulances are resulting in patients not getting the life-saving treatment they need within a crucial time, the programme revealed.
These delays far exceed both national and international accepted norms. Prime Time revealed that last year only one in every three people - 30 pc - with life threatening conditions were responded to within the target time.
A HSE spokesperson, informed about a number of the claims made on the programme, told the Irish Independent this week: “Martin Dunne, head of the national ambulance service, has done an interview with the programme.” And, they were unable to comment further as they had not yet viewed the programme.
Ambulance chief Martin Dunne said the national service was working hard to improve standards.
When asked about claims the service was sub-standard, he said the service had the best uniforms, best equipment and best trained workers. “We are probably running the best ambulance service in the world...We have a very positive national ambulance service which is going to improve,” he said.