Ambulance turnaround times double at Limerick hospital

Ambulances parked outside University Hospital Limerick.

HANDOVER times for ambulance crews delivering patients to University Hospital Limerick have doubled in three years, causing long delays in responding to potentially life-threatening situations.

Figures released from the National Ambulance Service to Aontú leader Peader Toibin through a series of parliamentary questions have been described as “a scandal” by the party’s reperasentative for Limerick Sarah Beasley.

Figures for ambulance response times in the Mid West have risen from 16 minutes in 2019 to 25 minutes in 2022, the average response time for 2020 was 17minutes, while it increased to 22 minutes in 2021.

“We now know without any doubt that the National Ambulance Service is not meeting the response target times for emergencies,” Ms Beasley said  

‘’These delays coupled with the very large area and population covered by the Limerick base of the National Ambulance Service is putting lives at risk. The Limerick and Newcastle West base has 10 ambulances and 47 staff to cover an area of approximately 2,800 square kilometres.” 

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

The figures provided through the parliamentary question show that delayed handover times when the ambulance reaches the hospital have doubled.

15 per cent of ambulances took longer than one hour to handover a patient in 2019, the figure for 2022 was 34 per cent.

The ambulance delays come despite the rollout of the Pathfinder service in Limerick, designed to improve outcomes for older people by providing safe alternative care at home rather than in hospital. It is provided by National Ambulance Service staff working with colleagues from HSE acute hospitals.

‘’We know that last year 890 patients nationally died by the time the ambulance reached the scene of the call out, this is a significant jump from 2019 when equivalent number was 757 people,” Ms Beasley said. 

A spokesman for the University of Limerick Hospitals Group said that “every effort is made to ensure that ambulances are turned around in as timely a manner as possible”.

“Along with the long-standing and well-documented challenges arising from a shortage of acute hospital beds in this region, we continue to manage high demand for emergency care. Attendances at our emergency department reached a record 79,891 in 2022.

“As the only model 4 hospital in the Mid West, UHL is the receiving hospital for life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrest, major trauma, etc. The severity of illness/injury in patients arriving at our emergency department reflects this and UHL consistently receives by far the most emergency ambulances of any hospital in the country.”

According to the most recent data, in March 2023 UHL received a total of 2,019 emergency ambulances, more than 300 more than the next busiest hospital in the country.

“A pathway has been established for ambulances attending the hospital, with a dedicated triage area, in order to improve turnaround times in the context of this high volume of ambulance traffic,” the spokesman said.

“In March 2023, 80 per cent of ambulances received by UHL spent less than one hour at the hospital, compared to 69 per cent nationally. The average wait time at UHL was 45 minutes, compared to 55 minutes nationally.”  

There was no response from the National Ambulance Service to queries from the Limerick Post on turnaround times.