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05 Jul 2022

EXCLUSIVE: Long wait for ambulances in Louth

Patient forced to wait over two hours for an ambulance

EXCLUSIVE: Long wait for ambulances in Louth

Forty-one ambulances dispatched to non-cardiac life-threatening emergencies in Louth in 2021 took longer than one hour, shocking new figures have revealed.

National Ambulance Service guidelines state that an ambulance should aim to arrive at the scene of an emergency non-cardiac incident within 19 minutes.

However, 41 patients were forced to wait longer than an hour for an ambulance to arrive last year, according to information released to the Dundalk Democrat under the Freedom of Information Act.


The longest wait time for a non-cardiac life threatening incident in Louth in 2021 was two and a half hours, with ‘Volume of Work’ given as the reason for the lengthy delay.

Life threatening calls are split into two categories: Delta (non- cardiac or respiratory arrest life threatening calls) and Echo (life threatening calls relating to cardiac or respiratory arrest).

Echo and Delta calls account for approximately 45% of all 112/999 emergency calls.

All Echo calls (life threatening calls relating to cardiac or respiratory arrest) in Louth last year were responded to within an hour.

In total, 16 Delta ambulance calls were logged as taking over one hour to arrive at their destination due to the ‘Volume of Work,’ 23 were delayed due to ‘Distance Involved’ while ‘Resource stood down for a higher acuity call’ was logged as the reason for delay in the remaining two calls.

The total number of Echo and Delta calls responded to in the whole North East region in 2021 was 13,389.

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association, speaking to the Democrat, said there needs to be more accountability when it comes to wait times.

“It’s a serious cause for concern that needs to be explained, they’re life and death situations where you’re down to minutes especially in places like Louth were somebody could be stuck out on a farm were it makes it even more difficult to get to them which is why you have to have the service built around the community”, Mr McMahon said.

“The reality is that the system was built for a half an hour response in the most critical cases and if in some cases it’s taking double that or even longer they have to identify where the blockages are to ensure that patients in the area get a timely response in their time of health crisis.

“For example, at the airports, if all the planes coming in were half an hour late, you can imagine the cumulative effect that would have on the whole system. It’s no different with ambulances.

“Nobody doubts that there are pressures there, we’re not criticising the ambulance services, in fact we strongly support their case to get extra capacity.

“The biggest problem appears to be that there is nobody accountable for the process managements side of things

“If the Irish healthcare system is actually impacting on emergency services and effectively cutting the capacity of the fleet (because calls are taking so long to respond to), well then we have to look at addressing that and see what’s going wrong.”

Asked to comment on the above figures, the HSE released a statement to the Democrat.

“Echo calls are defined as life threatening calls relating to cardiac or respiratory arrest”, a HSE spokesperson said.

“Delta calls relate to non-cardiac or respiratory arrest incidents. Echo and Delta calls account for approximately 45% of all 112/999 emergency calls.

“The HSE’s National Service Plan 2022 sets out a national level target to respond to DELTA calls within 18 minutes and 59 seconds. Delivery of this target is currently 50%.

“Every day, the National Ambulance Service deploys approximately 160 to 180 emergency ambulances, an average of 22 rapid response vehicles, and in excess of 50 officer response vehicles operating from over 100 locations around the country.

“As demand can exceed available resources, 999 calls are clinically triaged and prioritised to ensure that those patients with life threatening injuries or conditions receive the fastest response possible.

“If a 999 call is not time critical, then during busy periods, these calls will wait longer for a response.

“Thankfully, it remains the case that the majority of 999 calls do not relate to life threatening emergencies.

“For those calls that are not life threatening or clinically serious, the HSE encourages callers to consider other options such as GPs, Minor Injury Units, Pharmacists or Self Care.

“If you call 999 and your call is triaged as not life threatening or serious, we will respond as soon as we can.

“In July 2021, NAS commissioned a demand and capacity analysis to inform future workforce planning.

“This analysis is expected in Q2 2022 and is expected to highlight the need for significant additional staffing and investment in NAS in the coming years to meet ever growing demand.

“The current deployment model is designed around international best practice.

“We welcome the opportunity to engage with service users to understand their experience and to see if an opportunity for service improvement exists.

“In this regard, we encourage any service users who wish to discuss their experience to contact the HSE directly through Your Service, Your Say.”

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