This morning's newspapers are covering the tragic story of the late Mrs. Margaret Callaghan, who died in January 2018. Our thoughts this morning are with her family and friends. Mrs. Callaghan lived only 2 km from Letterkenny University Hospital, yet it took 71 minutes for an ambulance to reach her. She had been previously discharged after a test and rang for an ambulance the following day. Even after taking 71 minutes to travel 2 km, when the ambulance arrived at the emergency department in the hospital there were two ambulances ahead of her ambulance because of what are called offload delays. One of the ambulances had been there for six and a half hours and the other had been there for three and a half hours. Accordingly, Mrs. Callaghan's treatment was delayed. The urgency was not recognised. The medical director of the National Ambulance Service said that the issue with the offload times of ambulances throughout the country is endemic. It was one of the factors that led, regrettably, to Mrs. Callaghan's death. This case was covered in Letterkenny Coroner's Court yesterday.
Deputy Donnelly and other Members of the Houses have highlighted this issue previously. When one rings for an ambulance it is an emergency. One expects a quick turnaround. This country is lucky to have superb paramedics and ambulance personnel who are highly trained to do their jobs, but they are being prevented from doing them for all sorts of reasons, including a lack of investment in ambulance services and emergency departments. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has said that all hospitals in Ireland should monitor the implementation of ambulance "patient handover time ... which requires 95% of patients being handed over from an ambulance crew to the emergency department staff in less than 20 minutes, and where this is not met, corrective action should be taken". The reply to Deputy Donnelly's parliamentary question shows that the target is only being met in just under 16% of cases nationwide, and the HSE 30 minute target is only achieved in 37.1% of cases. Those figures have rapidly decreased from those of September 2017, so the problem is getting worse.
What is the Government's reaction to what unfolded yesterday in Letterkenny Coroner's Court? This is not just an issue in rural areas. Ambulance turnaround and transfer times across the Ireland East hospital group, which includes some of the biggest hospitals in Dublin, and in the South/South West hospital group, which includes hospitals in Cork city, have also decreased substantially. What is the Government's response to this? What action will it take to ensure there are proper and efficient turnaround times in the ambulance service?