Ballinamore GP, Dr Sean Bourke has severely criticised the “terrible delays” his patients encounter with ambulance services.
In the past six months he has had two patients who had to endure extremely long delays for ambulances, despite Cavan General Hospital only being a 35 minute drive away.
A 91 year old patient of his was over six hours waiting on an ambulance and just last week a seriously ill patient had a five hour delay in getting to hospital.
Dr Bourke had called the ambulance at 2.50pm on June 11 and the 69 year old lady did not arrive in hospital until almost 8pm.
Dr Bourke said this patient was very sick and needed immediate hospitalisation. The lady lives alone and had no family around.
When Dr Bourke heard about the issues in this case he tried to call Ambulance Control, but could not get through to speak to anyone.
It is also understood an ambulance got lost on a call to Ballinamore on Saturday, June 16 that resulted in long delay.
The doctor told the Leitrim Observer “a lot of the time there are no local ambulances and they must wait for an ambulance from Donegal.”
Dr Bourke also stated for the Ballinamore area the most common wait for an ambulance to arrive is two and a half to three hours.
While many in the Ballinamore area resort to driving to Cavan General Hospital rather than call an ambulance, there is a risk attached to that. If something was to happen on the journey no one is trained medically to deal with the situation. Also in Casualty, ambulances are given priority over walk ins.
Helen Breen Medical Secretary at Dr Bourke's Surgery Ballinamore did say there is a different protocol for heart attacks. The surgery recently had an elderly patient who came in with severe chest pains. This information was relayed to Ambulance Control and a helicopter was issued. The wait in this case was under one hour.
Cllr Caillian Ellis has asked Deputy Eamon Scanlon to highlight the ongoing problems with ambulance delay with the Minister for Health in the Dáil.
Speaking to the paper, yesterday, Cllr Ellis said, “The only way this is going to be solved is for the HSE is to put two ambulances back into service in Carrick-on-Shannon.”
“At the moment there is only one ambulance in service in Carrick-on-Shannon and that ambulance can be called out to an emergency in Galway or Mayo, leaving the area without ambulance cover.
“We are then faced with a situation that other ambulances have to come from Monaghan or Donegal to deal with emergencies here in Leitrim. The distance is simply too far and the delays are unacceptable.
“It is not the fault of the ambulance staff. The blame for this lies directly with the HSE and its ongoing failure to adequately staff and resource this very important service.
“What happened last Saturday in Ballinamore and earlier this month shows how the system has completely broken down. No one should have to wait four, five or even six hours for an ambulance to arrive in an emergency situation.” Cllr Ellis said that the failure to provide adequate staffing levels is leading to incredibly high levels of stress for ambulance crews and is also endangering the lives of patients.
“In the case earlier this month where a woman had to wait over four hours for an ambulance to arrive to bring her to a hospital only 35 or 40 minutes down the road, that woman had a serious illness that required surgery within 24 hours of her arriving in hospital. It is not acceptable that this lady had to wait for so many hours in distress and in severe pain,” he said.
“The HSE has got a lot to answer for,” he concluded.
When contacted about the issues in ambulance delay to South Leitrim, the only HSE reponse was "The National Ambulance Service cannot comment on individual cases."