Ambulance times ‘absolute scandal’

Ambulance times ‘absolute scandal’

2 October 2019

EMERGENCY ambulance response times in the former Down Council area have been severely criticised by a local politician who has labelled them an “absolute scandal” and demanded major improvements.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath revealed that in the past year, 90 emergency calls took paramedics 45 minutes to respond to. 

He also revealed that one third of all 999 calls in the area were responded to within 30 minutes or more. The target time is just eight minutes.

Mr McGrath’s revelation comes two months after the Down Community Health Committee announced that less than one third of life-threatening calls were responded to within the recommended guideline period in the former Down Council area.

Campaigners revealed that statistics obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed that in the year ended March 31, only 31.5% of category A calls — the most serious dealing with potentially immediately life-threatening situations — received a response on scene within the eight-minute period.

The campaign group revealed that detailed analysis of the statistics for calls with a response arriving at the scene indicated that only 14.9% of the calls received to the Rowallane area had an eight-minute response, compared with 12.66% in Slieve Croob and 24% in the Mournes.

Equivalent responses to the Newry DEA were 59.2%, while Slieve Gullion and Crotlieve were 26.6% and 11.4% respectively. The response time in Downpatrick was 43.92%.

Mr McGrath — who also received his information via a FoI request — labelled the poor response times to 999 calls as a “systemic failure”.

He continued: “Category A calls potentially represent an immediate threat to life. The results I obtained were absolutely shocking and indeed worrying. They would make even the calmest person profoundly angry.  Reading the statistics I share in that anger.

“My FoI request reveals that 90 of the life-threatening calls were responded to in 45 minutes; that’s an average of a 999 call meeting with this response every four days.”

Mr McGrath said the response times were “nothing short of a systemic failure and an absolute scandal at a time when paramedics and wider emergency service responders are doing their absolute utmost to ensure they are able to respond to incidents within an appropriate time frame”. 

He continued: “This is often a thankless task and they are the ones who will witness some of the rawest and most frightening elements of the human experience. I commend the work that they do in the most difficult of circumstances. 

“But this is surely a resource issue and one that health service officials must respond to. There is fault somewhere and someone must be held accountable for these shocking figures. People are dying because of this.

Mr McGrath said a range of health, education and roads infrastructure issues were not being dealt with and that services were under resourced and understaffed.

He added: “How many more people are going to die before those holding the Northern Ireland Assembly hostage get their act together and reconvene?”