A spokesperson for the National Ambulance Service has acknowledged there is a “significant challenge” with service response times in rural areas.
Last month, Cllr Caillian Ellis and Dr Sean Bourke highlighted a case where an elderly patient was waiting nearly five hours for an ambulance to attend her home in the Ballinamore area.
Dr Bourke initially called for the ambulance on Monday, June 11, 2018 at approximately 2.50pm.
Ambulance control rang the patient to ask for directions at 3.30pm. At 5.30pm the patient rang emergency services, adding she was in severe pain and enquiring about the location of the ambulance.
She was told the ambulance would be there in 40 minutes. One hour and 10 minutes later the ambulance passed her home and a short time later it returned to her house, after getting directions. She was brought to Cavan General Hospital for treatment arriving at 7.46pm.
In a letter sent last week in response to a query by Cllr Caillian Ellis on the delay in this case, Paudie O'Riordan, Chief Ambulance Officer/Area Operations Manager - West, said: “while I cannot get into the details of the call without the expressed permission of the patient, I do again apologise for the delay in the ambulance service responding to the lady in question.”
He said the Ambulance Service categorises the calls into Emergency, Urgent or Non-Emergency patient transport. Urgent is when a call comes from a GP and they (the GP) can decide if it needs to be urgently responded to or within a certain timeframe.
According to a record of the response to this call, provided in answer to a parliamentary question by Deputy Eamon Scanlon earlier this month, the National Ambulance Service said the first notice they received in relation to this patient was at 3.37pm on June 11, 2018 when the call was initially classified as 'urgent'.
The call was later reclassified and prioritised as an emergency at 5.31pm after a follow up call was received by the ambulance service. This resulted in the closest available emergency ambulance being dispatched to the patient.
Paudie O'Riordan, Chief Ambulance Officer/Area Operations Manager - West in his letter to Cllr Ellis, acknowledged: “There is a significant challenge in rural areas with the road network and the nature of rural areas.
“While HIQA in their first report have given a target response time of 19 minutes, this includes urban areas and is accepting that even there, 20% of the calls will not respond within the 19 minutes,” Mr O'Riordan pointed out.
“The new international best practice is to concentrate on patient outcomes with a timely response,” he said.
Cllr Caillian Ellis said he was very unhappy with the length of time it took to get to the patient in question, noting it was a very serious case involving an elderly woman who was “in a lot of pain”.
He also point out this wasn't the first instance of significant delay in ambulances responding to call outs in the Ballinamore area.
He told the Leitrim Observer it was clear an ambulance should be based at the Ballinamore Community Nursing Unit.
Anger over 'misleading letter'
Speaking at Monday's Ballinamore Municipal District meeting, Cllr Brendan Barry also expressed his disappointment over a "misleading letter" received in response to the councillor's enquiries on ambulance waiting times in the Ballinamore area.
Cllr Barry said the letter "gives the idea that ambulances are waiting in Carrick-on-Shannon and Manorhamilton, but they are not, they could be in Mayo or Galway."
He said more ambulances are needed to cover the vast region.
Cllr Caillian Ellis said he has a question going to Minister Simon Harris asking for an ambulance to be located in Ballinamore to serve the region.
The Ballinamore Municipal District will write to the Minister again to seek more ambulances in this region.