Private ambulance firms fail standards inspection
Confidential report reveals shortcomings in staff training and security
INSPECTIONS of private ambulance firms have found that several failed to meet all of the training and security standards set by a statutory body, according to a confidential report.
The report found that of the seven private ambulance firms inspected, two had allowed staff to work with the public before their security clearance was in place and others didn't have the proper security paperwork in place.
One ambulance provider allowed an employee to start work even though he was still waiting for security clearance.
Two private ambulance providers were urged to "follow up on garda vetting".
Only one company had the required documents in place to prove that staff who didn't speak English as a first language were competent in the language. Three companies appeared to have staff that did not hold current certificates or retention training in cardiac first response.
Shortcomings were also identified in information management, with one company urged to ensure patient confidentiality when handling patient care reports.
The findings emerged during inspections of seven private ambulance firms approved by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC).
The inspections were the first to be conducted by the body, which was set up in 2001 to regulate and set standards for the pre-emergency care sector. It requires all ambulance staff to be registered, to have security clearance, to undergo regular retraining, and to be able to speak English competently.
The private ambulance firms were not identified in the report but include the seven approved firms listed on its website. The overall results were circulated last week in a confidential document to the HSE and health insurers as well as to the private ambulance operators.
The standards body has given the ambulance providers three months to get their operations in order before another round of inspections to "ensure compliance". In a letter circulated last week, it said it would "consider rescinding" approval to practice if the recommendations were not met.
Dr Geoff King, director of the PHECC, insisted that inspectors found "a high degree of compliance" but that some "housekeeping" issues needed to be addressed.
"No service did not comply in a way that would affect their ability to provide safe service to the public," he said. "Not one of the services dotted every 'i' and crossed every 't'. However, none of them gave us concern that they could not deliver a safe and appropriate service to members of the public. If they did, we would have rescinded their approval."
However the findings have been seized on by the owner of one private ambulance firm, who has lobbied for greater standards and regulation of the industry for several years.
David Hall, whose company, Lifeline Services, was one of those inspected, said: "We are in possession of a report that is very concerning. I am looking for a meeting with Tracy Cooper, of Hiqa, the health watchdog. The industry has to take this on."
The private ambulance sector is a burgeoning industry with at least nine companies vying for contracts to transport public and private patients with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and private health insurers.
The findings are also understood to have caused some concern within the HSE and private health insurers who could find themselves liable if anything should happen to their patients while in the care of ambulances that fail to meet PHECC standards.
The HSE carried out the first inspections of the private operators that are contracted as ambulance fleets over the past fortnight.
Private ambulance operators don't have to be licensed by the Department of Health and the only regulation of the sector is imposed by the PHECC, which sets standards and training for the industry.
There are as yet no standards for hygiene and infection control on private or voluntary ambulances.