Just one in four ambulances is meeting turnaround targets, leaving thousands of patients waiting to be transferred to hospitals.
Ambulances had to wait more than an hour to transfer patients on 1,431 occasions during February, figures released by the HSE reveal.
This had a knock-on effect on other services as it meant ambulances were then delayed in getting back out to respond to calls as they had to wait to get their trolleys back.
Although there is a commitment to have 50% of all ambulance calls turned around in 20 minutes or less, this target was met at just one of the country’s acute hospitals, Temple Street Children’s Hospital.
Galway University Hospital was the worst with just 7.7% of ambulance calls achieving the optimum turnaround, while 158 ambulance calls, or 19.2%, were forced to wait one to two hours before being able to transfer patients.
However, the longest turn-over time was experienced at Waterford University Hospital where one patient was left waiting between four and five hours to be admitted in February.
Patients were not admitted for up to four hours at Cork University Hospital, Letterkenny General Hospital, University Hospital Limerick, and Naas General Hospital.
Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher, who received the latest data through a Dáil question, said overcrowding in hospitals coupled with staffing shortages is having a knock-on effect across the health service, including ambulance services.
“It highlights the fact that emergency departments are overcrowded so they can’t transfer patients from ambulances into the emergency departments,” the Cork North Central TD said.
“They are tying up the resources of the ambulance so we are not getting as efficient as service as should be.”
Tony Gregg, national secretary of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, said the delays are almost always outside the control of paramedics and come down to a lack of funding and services.
“It’s a broken system and it’s crumbling,” he said.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.