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Niall Hunter: A fire engine to the hospital? No way to run the HSE

AN 88-year-old woman who suffered a suspected heart attack had to be taken to a Dublin hospital in the back of a fire engine -- because some ambulances were out of service last night.

Yes, like me, you probably had to read that again after you read it the first time.


Surely, you said, that can't be true.

Are our health services in such a dire state that we can't even provide timely basic emergency ambulance facilities to vulnerable patients?

Well, welcome to Mary Harney and the HSE's wonderful healthcare system, 2010-style.

At this stage we are used to reading about the serious financial state of our health services and dire warnings that the cuts and pressures on services are only set to get worse.

By next year, a massive two billion euro may have been taken out of our health service.


It's only when you read of the human effect of these health service capacity problems on the old, the sick and the vulnerable that you realise how bad things really are.

You hear about the elderly lady's experience and you wonder whether the powers that be should really stop pretending to us that we have any semblance of a half-decent health service any more.

What use are grandiose plans to shift services from hospitals to the community, to get GPs more involved in the care of patients and to cut waiting lists when basic emergency services clearly cannot function as they should?

When the elderly lady concerned became ill, she was forced to wait for an ambulance, apparently because ambulance trolleys were being used at a hospital A&E department.

The unfortunate woman apparently had to be transported in the fire brigade engine on a kitchen chair.

This is far removed from the 'world-class service' Mary Harney and the HSE are aspiring to, and it's simply not good enough.

Serious questions need to be asked about how a situation that would be laughable if it was not so serious arose in the first place.

And it's certainly not the first time that this type of ambulance back-up and delays at emergency departments has occurred.

The fire officers who acted resourcefully and swiftly to assist the patient must be congratulated.

But this is no way to run a health service.