Ambulances 'losing critical time' by lack of sat nav equipment
Critical time is being lost by ambulances travelling to accidents and other emergencies because they are not fitted with sat nav equipment, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Paramedics are now using Google Maps on their personal mobile phones due to the lack of an on-board navigation system.
And National Ambulance Service personnel are even forced to use their own ordnance survey maps as they are not provided by the HSE.
Tony Greg, general secretary of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA), stressed modern navigation technology is urgently required as response times to 999 calls are being delayed.
"Up to now we've relied on local knowledge, and Eircodes put into our own mobile phones.
"Where it becomes a problem is in situations where we don't have our phone, or we don't have local knowledge.
"In that case we're dependent on being guided in by controllers."
He said ambulances are now travelling further distances, and into unknown areas, following the introduction of a new "dynamic deployment model".
"Without the sat nav system, paramedics are totally reliant on the eyes of a controller who is looking at a mapping system to guide them into an area, and we experience delays.
"It slows vehicles down because you can't be properly following directions, while looking for landmarks, and at the same travel at emergency speed.
"It means you have to slow down to normal driving speed, or even slower than that.
"This can cause a delay in terms of getting to a patient - and delivering the care they require."
He said paramedics without smartphones compatible with navigation apps are resorting to old-fashioned ordnance survey maps.
"Some of our older guys, who wouldn't be app savvy, have to rely on the old paper mapping system. We're also reliant on paramedics buying the maps themselves."
He said while the newer fleet - 2016 and 2017 models - have a facility on the dashboard for a sat nav system - the technology has not been installed.
"It is a matter of urgency that we get these systems.
"Because of the dynamic deployment model put in place by the ambulance service, we're travelling longer distances, and into jurisdictions that we're unfamiliar with.
"Ambulances in Dublin frequently travel into Wicklow, Meath, Westmeath and Louth. Once we get out of our local catchment environment, we depend on our own personal sat navs."
He said the situation has become more serious because the service is now catering for longer-distance journeys which involve unfamiliar terrain for the crew.
Stephen McMahon, chairman of the Irish Patients' Association, said he is shocked by the revelations.
"If we're building a state-of- the-art ambulance fleet - that are effectively mobile EDs (emergency departments) - it would be fairly basic to have GPS or mapping systems that are state of the art.
"I'm calling for the HSE to conduct a full risk assessment to assure the public no lives are at risk because of this gap in the communications system.
"As we move forward towards reconfiguration of services, we've got to be absolutely confident, and have trust in the frontline defence which is the emergency response system, whether it be the ambulance service or the Air Corps."
He also said it is unacceptable that staff must purchase their own road maps.
"It should be provided by the National Ambulance Service itself. What happens if somebody leaves their map at home? It's too risky."
In a statement, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said the National Ambulance Service is implementing a new vehicle system which will include a "navigation tool".
Its phased introduction will take place between now and 2018 - however it is currently undergoing a "quality assurance phase" in parts of the National Ambulance Service south area.
"As can be appreciated this is a complex technical solution - it will be installed in all emergency ambulances and rapid response vehicles," it added.