THE HSE have defended plans to change ambulance cover arrangements across West Cork despite growing opposition to the proposals.
Speaking at the Regional Health Forum South meeting at County Hall on Thursday (Sept. 22nd) HSE Cork Area Manager Ger Reaney said that the proposed changes would deliver a safe and efficient service across the region.
Courtmacsherry-based councillor John O’Sullivan said, “There is real fear among the public and that needs to be highlighted. People’s fears need to be alleviated”.
The public concern stems from plans to abolish current “on-call” arrangements which see ambulance crews who work during the day placed on-call for emergencies that evening.
The ambulance crew’s union SIPTU has called for the system to be abolished and this has been agreed with the National Ambulance Service (NAS).
Instead the HSE proposes a system of emergency response units using cars and motorbikes, supporting a smaller number of ambulances after 8pm.
The proposals are likely to see ambulances based in Clonakilty and Bantry covering West Cork, but not in Castletownbere and Skibbereen, as is the case currently.
Responding to questioning from Cllr O’Sullivan, Ger Reaney said that the new system would improve the level of service across West Cork, not reduce it.
He stressed that ambulances would no longer be based in towns but would constantly be moving across West Cork to where they were needed.
He said that higher levels of training, computer dispatch and GPS technology along with faster response times would provide “a safe service”.
Nicky Glynn, Chief Ambulance Officer, with the HSE South said that under Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) standards calls would have to be attended in eight minutes by a rapid response car or bike and within 19 minutes by an ambulance.
He said that both would be dispatched and the rapid response paramedic would decide if the ambulance is needed or not on arrival.
He said that only two to three per cent of 999 calls are of the most life threatening type, and up to 10 per cent were for diabetic or epileptic related incidents, many of which would now be able to be treated at the scene thanks to the high level of training for advanced paramedics.
Cllr O’Sullivan said he was still concerned about response and transfer times to hospital especially in the peninsulas of West Cork.
“It’s extremely worrying,” he said, “especially as part of the service will involve volunteers and I am aware of some who are considering stepping down because of the added pressure and responsibility”.
In July Skibbereen Town Council issued a statement calling for a rethink of the proposals.
Mayor Frank Fahy said, “Effectively, the HSE are putting lives at risk over a vast area to save the pay of one Paramedic from 8pm to 8am for four additional nights to the current arrangement.
“It will still be necessary to call an advanced paramedic and/or Doctor and an ambulance to all events involving trauma including fractures or head injuries, chest pain, paediatric, first-time seizures etc. and transport the casualty to Cork all of which clearly negates any savings made.”
The statement, which has “the full and vigorous support” of the Town Council concludes, “A rapid response car is being used to show an improved response time rather than a more functional and efficient system to remove casualties to an appropriate medical facility”.