A significant study undertaken by Tipperary Ambulance Action Group (TAAG) in relation to critical life-saving Emergency Ambulance Call-outs for South Tipperary, demonstrates that at least 60% of the population does not receive adequate cover.
This has been further exasperated by the recent alleged removal of paramedic shifts by the National Ambulance Service (NAS) in both Clonmel and Tipperary Ambulance Stations, which leaves unmanned ambulances inoperable, according to a spokesperson for TAAG.
The Tipperary Ambulance Action Group was established following the treat to ambulances based in Cashel.
TAAG has regularly been in contact with the NAS since early this year to seek confirmation on proposed reductions to the area’s ambulances and paramedic work shifts.
To date, any responses received from the NAS have proven meaningless, with statements of – the situation currently being under review; no rostering or resource allocation changes have taken place; no comment can be made as discussions are on-going with the unions; the query is being forwarded on elsewhere.
This dearth of information and double-speak by the NAS masks any true intentions. On the face of it, appears that there are no reductions to the Ambulance Service, while anecdotal evidence shows that ambulances numbers and crew rosters are being reduced across the board.
More recently, the staff rosters in both Clonmel and Tipperary Ambulance Stations have been cut, meaning there are less ambulances available.
As a result of the lack of information forthcoming from the NAS, TAAG sought to undertake its own review for South Tipperary.
Despite any claims to the contrary, Life-Saving Emergency (Echo and Delta) Calls have a specific target response time of 7 minutes and 59 seconds, while secondary, lower order calls and support services have a required 18 minutes and 59 seconds response time.
RTE’s recent Prime Time show identified that the NAS strive to reach these targets at least 75% of the time, but in reality fall significantly short.
TAAG decided to see what distances could be achieved from Cashel, Clonmel and Tipperary Ambulance Stations within these crucial times.
In order to be as optimal as possible, a further 20% was added to these times to allow for road conditions, speed limits, weather conditions, traffic volumes, etc.
It found that in relation to the 18 minutes 59 Seconds call target that the county is reasonably well covered, but subject to immediate availability of ambulance and paramedics.
Howevr, it found that the results are devastating with regard to the critical life-saving Echo and Delta Calls, with average achievable distances for Cashel, Clonmel and Tipperary respectively being 12.7Km, 11.1Km and 10.8Km. This is also subject to immediate availability of ambulance and paramedics.
When the area of coverage is compared to the population densities across South Tipperary and based upon the 2011 Population Census, that these three stations service, just 40 to 45% of the population is reachable.
That is 11,000 people in the Cashel area, 23,000 for Clonmel and 6,000 for Tipperary Town – out of a total population of 88,000.
The NAS professes to operate a Full Capacity Service coupled with a system of Dynamic Deployment, which means not having ambulances parked at Ambulance Stations, but out on the road.
In other words, on annual percentage basis of critical response calls, the NAS claim it can therefore cover a greater area and within more effective response times. No doubt this is based on a fully operating service, employing the model of an ambulance at the Station with the reminder roving their area of operations.
However, given the national anecdotal evidence of reductions in the ambulance fleet, reductions in operating hours and availability of ambulance crews, decimation of relief crews, incidents of break downs within the fleet, reduced station operating and rostering hours, redeployment to other areas or counties and significant ambulance bottle-necking at A&E Departments – this model of Dynamic Deployment can not function at any level of practicality.
At best, it is moving the ambulance (if available) away from the areas of population centres to cover that proportion of the population (on its chosen roving route) which would normally not receive the critical response time and in so doing, deny the larger population centres of adequate coverage.
The net effect of this is in reality to significantly reduce the percentage of the population covered from the 40% - 45% to a drastically lower number of people.
Tipperary Ambulance Action Group call on the National Ambulance Service to arrange a meeting to discuss the current predicament and seek no further reductions in its fleet, staffing or implementation of any other impediment to desperately required improvement to the Ambulance Service and saving of lives.