Protesters oppose the changes in Skibbereen recently. Pic: West Cork Times

PROPOSED changes to ambulance services in West Cork will deliver a better service than current arrangements the HSE has told reporters in Cork.

Speaking at a specially arranged press briefing, Robert Morton the Director of the National Ambulance Service said that public fear over proposed changes was being whipped up by vested interests and that the public were being misled about what the proposed changes mean in practice.

Robert Morton

There has been massive public opposition in West Cork to proposals to withdraw “on call” ambulance cover from Skibbereen and Castletownbere on weekdays after 8pm and replace them with rapid response cars that cannot carry patients.

Speaking at the briefing, Nicky Glynn, Area Operations Manager for HSE South said that currently there were no “on duty” staff covering these areas on weeknights and that under the new system response times would be dramatically improved.

Under the on-call system ambulance crews make themselves available to take emergency calls for a 12-hour period after finishing a regular 12-hour shift.

Under the new system staff would be rostered on duty every night to cover West Cork with two ambulances (based at Bantry and Clonakilty) and two response cars (Skibbereen and Castletownbere).

According to Ger Reaney, Area Manager in HSE Cork the changes will see an extra 21 staff deployed in front line services in Cork and Kerry.

Excluding Cork city which has three ambulances on duty at night the whole of Cork and Kerry is currently covered by 16 on call and two on duty ambulances.

Under the new system it is proposed to have 18 on duty vehicles (12 ambulances and six response cars) and no vehicles on call.

Dr Cathal O’Donnell

Dr Cathal O’Donnell, Medical Director of the National Ambulance Service said that the job of an ambulance was to treat and stabilise patients at the scene as well as transport them to hospital.

He said that patients would be treated more quickly under the proposed system than at present and that the overall level of service would also improve.

The HSE has entered labour relations negotiations with ambulance crews to eliminate the on-call practice and must also meet new response time targets set by health watchdog HIQA.