Many counties are being left with just two ambulances providing cover around the clock, new figures reveal.Just two emergency ambulances are on day shifts in counties Carlow, Leitrim and Longford seven days a week, while Sligo, Monaghan and Laois are also regularly covered by just two vehicles.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent
show that Carlow, Sligo, Meath, Longford, Donegal, and Laois sometimes have just one ambulance on night duty.
The startling figures obtained from the HSE show that more than 20 ambulances cover day shifts in Dublin on a daily basis, with 16 in Cork, around 12 in Donegal, seven in Kerry, five in Wexford and four in Roscommon.
One paramedic said ambulances are often forced to travel more than 60km to the scene of an accident, which can put the lives of injured people at risk."The sooner someone can get to a centre of care the better. The greater the delay outside the 'golden hour' the greater the chances of a poorer outcome," said the paramedic.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said it is time for the Government to get "ruthless" about solving the ambulance service's issues in rural Ireland.
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He called for all new gardaí and firefighters to be trained as paramedics, a review of the air ambulance service, and for civil defence ambulances to be made available.
"Either we want to fix the service or we don't and a bit of ruthlessness has to come into it at this stage," he said.
He acknowledged having ambulances everywhere is not the solution, but he called for all agencies involved to think "outside the box".
"It was stated in the Programme for Government that there would be a review of the air ambulance service but it never happened, they never bothered, that needs to happen immediately.
"We have ambulances in this country hauling non-emergency patients from hospital to hospital, and a lot of that work could be sub-contracted out to release ambulances," he said.
"Every new guard and firefighter should also be trained as a paramedic, that way we'd be giving communities a huge amount of options in different emergency scenarios.
"Civil defences around the country also have a lot of ambulances only used for football matches on Sundays, they are lying idle all week.
"They could be used as another back-up service," he said.Last year, a HSE review of the National Ambulance Service (NAS) found it "cannot possibly achieve" the eight-minute target for responding to life-threatening calls due to "immense difficulties with rurality in Ireland".
In 2014, less than 7pc of these calls were responded to within the eight-minute timeframe.
Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture, said he is aware of a number of incidents of emergency ambulance delays in his Donegal constituency.
"There is a need for additional ambulance staff to ensure cover is there. The ambulance vehicles don't seem to be the issue as much as staffing them."
A spokesperson for the NAS stated that "resources are dispatched to calls across the country from the National Emergency Operations Centre on a nearest available (to the incident) basis and not on a county boundary basis.
"At a local level, the NAS is supported by more than 140 community first responder schemes, responding to particular types of medical emergencies (cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, chest pain, choking and stroke) where it is essential for the patient to receive immediate life-saving care whilst an emergency response vehicle is en route to the patient."
In 2016 the NAS responded to 343,000 ambulance calls, and transported 44,000 intermediate care patients.
See also Sligo Today 3/7/2017