THE health watchdog has been ordered to "accelerate" its investigation into ambulance emergency response times amid serious concern for patient safety.
Health Minister James Reilly has demanded an urgent review of the country's ambulance services after it emerged that crucial response targets are still being missed.
Figures supplied to the Oireachtas Health Committee reveal that services across every ambulance region missed response time targets last year in cases of life-threatening emergencies.
It has emerged that targets for responding to the most critical of these emergencies, such as cardiac or respiratory arrests, are still not being met in Dublin and the West. Ambulance services are set two different HSE targets which outline how long it should take for an ambulance to respond to an emergency. A higher rate of compliance is set by health watchdog HIQA.
The HSE states that 70pc of 'ECHO' calls -- the most serious of emergencies -- should be responded to within 18 minutes and 59 seconds.
A lower compliance rate of 68pc is set in the case of 'DELTA' calls -- life-threatening emergencies other than cardiac or respiratory arrests.
Figures seen by the Irish Independent reveal:
* The West and Dublin ambulance regions failed to meet the 'ECHO' target, recording 60.8pc and 61.4pc respectively;
* Each region missed the 'DELTA' target last year, although most recorded improvements;
* South recorded the highest 'ECHO' grade (89.5pc) but the lowest 'DELTA' grade (57.4pc);
* North Leinster and Dublin services were the only two to record improvements in both grades in 2013.
It emerged last year that the HIQA has been asked to investigate the ambulance service and issues such as response times.
However, Dr Reilly told the committee yesterday that he had requested HIQA to "accelerate" its investigation in light of recent incidents where there were long delays in ambulances arriving at the scene of an emergency.
"HIQA were due to do a review of the ambulance service in the second quarter of the year," he said. "I've spoken to both the chairman and the CEO and I've requested -- and they've agreed -- that they will expedite that and bring it forward with a degree of urgency to investigate this situation."
Dr Reilly said he has become aware of a situation where four ambulances were parked outside a hospital on a day when there were issues with trolleys.
"I'm very happy for HIQA to bring this forward and have a thorough review of all these situations of the entire service, tell us what they feel the problem is, where the problems lie and we will address them. Because the safety of our citizens has to be paramount," he added.
Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain raised the prospect of installing satnav devices in ambulances in order to speed up response times.
However, HSE boss Tony O'Brien said this would not take place until a full postcode system was rolled out. "If we were to install satnavs, there would be safety issues arising,"he said.