MORE than one in 10 ambulances had to wait for over an hour at the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick before being cleared for their next call, new figures for April 2014 show.
The data was released to Independent TD Denis Naughten in a week when the hospital was criticised by a HIQA report for the effect of overcrowding on ambulance turnaround times.
The figures, from the National Ambulance Service, show that the target 20-minute turnaround for paramedics was only met in 26% of cases at University Hospital during April 2014. In 11% of cases, ambulance crews were waiting over an hour to get back on the road. The data shows that the average wait for ambulances was over 35 minutes.
At only seven of the 34 hospitals surveyed - including Cork University Hospital and Galway University Hospital - were these waiting times exceeded.
HIQA identified overcrowding at the emergency department as the key factor in ambulance delays in last week’s report.
“Hospital data shows that pre-hospital emergency response ambulances were being significantly delayed when waiting to transfer patients from the ambulance trolley to an ED trolley,” the report stated.
“Consequently, at the time of the authority’s review, pre-hospital emergency care services were potentially unable to respond to critical calls within a safe timeframe.”
The beefing up of pre-hospital care in the Mid-West, including the rapid dispatch of advanced paramedics, was critical to the HSE’s plans for reorganising the acute hospital structure across the region. This included cutting back on the opening hours of the emergency departments in Ennis and Nenagh - now known as local injury clinics and handling less complex cases - and taking emergency cases as quickly as possible to Dooradoyle.
But a trade union representing paramedics said the demands on crews arising from reconfiguration were impossible to meet and the latest data shows the stark need for more investment in staff and vehicles.
“These figures, which show among other things that ambulances spent more than 8,000 hours delayed at EDs during one month this year, and one in ten ambulances was delayed for over an hour, are indisputable evidence that the ambulance service is stretched to capacity and cannot meet the demands being placed on it within a reconfigured health service which relies on paramedics and the ambulance service like never before,” said Michael Dixon, chairman, National Ambulance Service Representative Association.