HSE admits using cars as ambulances
THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has admitted using rapid response vehicles (RRVs) instead of ambulances when it has been short-staffed.
An RRV – usually a station wagon or an SUV – carries the same equipment as an ambulance and can reach the scene of an accident more quickly.
But they are usually manned by a lone responder and, crucially, do not carry stretchers and cannot be used to transport a patient to hospital.
The HSE says it has had to use the vehicles instead of ambulances for "operational reasons".
In a statement, it said: "On occasions, operational issues within the National Ambulance Service (NAS) may arise up to and including the short notification of sick leave.
"The NAS utilises all its resources to deliver its services effectively, including the use of RRVs."
However, the association representing ambulance personnel has claimed the RRVs are being used instead of ambulances because of cutbacks.
A spokesman for the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA) said it represented a dilution in the quality of the services offered to the public and compromised patient care.
NASRA said it had received reports of RRVs being used as alternatives to ambulances in Dublin, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Listowel and Tralee last week.
Its national secretary, Tony Gregg, said the practice was reducing the level of service being offered to the public.
Mr Gregg claimed each of the places they had received reports from were down one ambulance resource, and the RRVs had been deployed in their places to save costs.
"This is a concern because it represents a reduction in the services provided, and it's as a direct result of austerity measures," Mr Gregg claimed.
"The RRVs are being used as an alternative, which they were never meant to be. They were supposed to compliment an ambulance service because they are smaller vehicles and can get to a scene faster."
He said although the RRVs were fully equipped with resuscitation equipment, crucially, there was only one paramedic onboard and they didn't have stretchers and therefore could not remove a casualty from the scene to hospital.