Problems with ambulance services in Co. Limerick laid bare

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

The Ambulance Centre in Dooradoyle.
A HEART-attack patient was airlifted to casualty - despite the fact he lived under 25 miles by road from the University Hospital in Dooradoyle.

A HEART-attack patient was airlifted to casualty - despite the fact he lived under 25 miles by road from the University Hospital in Dooradoyle.

In a week where long wait times with the ambulance service in Limerick have been laid bare, there have been fresh calls for a change in the administration structure, plus calls for a new station in rural East Limerick.

The man, who lives just over the Tipperary border, was initially told the only ambulance available to him was in Wexford.

Fianna Fail councillor Noel Gleeson, a friend of the family of the man - who does not wish to be identified - said because of this delay, a helicopter was instead ordered.

This comes in spite of the fact an ambulance could have been despatched from Dooradoyle, just 23 miles away.

However, due to the fact the man lives in Carnahalla, near Cappawhite, he fell into a different district, and faced a potentially “dangerous” wait for an ambulance.

“Luckily the man was fine, but surely someone could have looked at the map and worked out he is a stones throw away from Limerick,” Cllr Gleeson said.

He said it is “not acceptable” for people in rural Ireland to be put through to a national call centre.

“There is a difference between their own locations, and the actual geography. You really have to be at the races in terms of boundaries,” he said, “It annoys a lot of people, because an ambulance can probably get to the regional hospital in 15 minutes.”

Conversely, Galbally-based councillor Eddie Ryan said it is more appropriate for people in his village get an ambulance service from nearby Tipperary Town, or Mitchelstown.

Due to the way the ambulance service is administered, people are left relying on the service from the ambulance station in Dooradoyle.

“On a good run, with safety, you would be doing well to get out here in 45 minutes. But Tipperary Town has a service which is eight miles from Galbally, and Mitchelstown is 10 miles. The availability of an ambulance should be based on which one is closest, irrespective of your county or health board,” he said.

Fellow Galbally man James O’Gorman, 75, says he was forced to drive to Garryspillane to intercept an ambulance coming to the village.

He had a 90 minute wait for an emergency vehicle for a relative who had developed a gallstone, and had to be rushed to hospital.

“The service was very good when they got here. But it was night time. I had to drive to Garryspillane to meet them and direct them,” he revealed.

Shirley McEntee, a paramedic of 12 years who lifted the lid on the ambulance service during RTE’s Prime Time investigation last week, says there should be more resources in the county.

“There are huge gaps. We need more ambulances and more paramedics, and more response cars,” she said.

Cllr Ryan said a new ambulance station to serve the vast parts of East Limerick reliant on the city “would make sense”.

Ted Kenny, SIPTU, added: “This is the way it has been for the last 40 years, but the population has increased in the area. We all want to see increased resources to these areas”.

Mr O’Gorman agreed, saying: “We are quite a distance from the city, and it does have an effect.”

In an interview earlier this week, Ms McEntee - who now works as a controller warned if there is no investment in the service, there could be a fatality, be it a paramedic, or member of the public.

Ms McEntee fears sanctions when she returns to work. But her union SIPTU has indicated they will not allow this to happen.

The HSE said that people in border areas do get the nearest service: “Emergency ambulances from all stations are used in a dynamic manner to maintain emergency cover and respond to emergency calls, as required. All ambulance stations in adjacent counties support each other, where emergency calls are responded to by the nearest available ambulance regardless of where it is based,” a statement read.