AMBULANCES and their crews are being tied up for up to four hours waiting to hand over patients to the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.
This comes as there were twelve ambulances stuck in a queue on one day alone last week.
SIPTU, the union which represents members employed in the National Ambulance Service (NAS), has warned that paramedics are “at breaking point” due to an increase in demand for their services.
Ger Kennedy, SIPTU Organiser with the Health Division in the Mid West, told the Limerick Post that ambulances are now regularly stalled at University Hospital Limerick’s emergency department.
“The ambulance arrives and they have a patient on a trolley in the back of that ambulance, but there are no hospital trolleys available to transfer that patient on to,” Mr Kennedy explained.
“On one day last week, there were twelve ambulances backed up waiting to hand over patients. All they can do is wait and look after the patient in the ambulance until there is a trolley free. Those crews and ambulances are tied up for all that time when they should be back out answering other calls.”
The delays are having a knock-on effect with some of the ambulances in the twelve-deep queue having been dispatched from Ennis and further afield.
Waits of three and four hours are not uncommon, Mr Kennedy said, noting that the last two weeks have seen such delays on a regular basis.
Referencing the closure of emergency facilities in other hospitals, he said: “It’s so frustrating. No-one will acknowledge that a mistake was made in 2010. In an emergency situation, the only place for an ambulance to bring a patient is Limerick and Limerick does not have the capacity to cope.”
SIPTU Sector Organiser Ted Kenny said that “some paramedics have reported working several hours beyond the end of their 12-hour shifts, which is leading to burnout”.
“In addition to this, they are now being requested to work additional hours to assist with the current upsurge of activity being reported across the health service.
“SIPTU representatives have been engaging with the management of the NAS on a number of outstanding issues at the organisation, including the implementation of an Independent Review of Roles and Responsibilities Report, staffing concerns, and the appropriate funding of the service.
“The NAS has been under funded for years and needs at least an extra 2,000 staff along with 120 new ambulances to provide the level of service that is now needed.”
A spokesperson for the NAS said in response to a query from the Limerick Post: “At the beginning of December, NAS activated a new Tactical Management Unit operating 24/7 to support staff and proactively manage pressures and escalations within the service for this winter and beyond began work at the start of December.”
“The Tactical Management Team works under the direction of a Senior Tactical Manager 24/7 who will work closely with acute hospital colleagues to reduce the impact of arrival to handover delays while supporting hospital turnarounds.
“The team will continue to work in this capacity following the winter period. Tactical Managers will work in collaboration with local area managers and hospital group management.”