Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (649)

Tom Fleming


649. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Health if he will review the new centralisation of ambulance control centres following a series of incidents in response to calls for patients with serious medical conditions; if mistaken addresses and communication difficulties from the new centralised control system in Tallaght will need to be immediately reviewed to eliminate these failures; if he will re-introduce the local control systems and staff at least on a temporary basis to back up the centralised control centre to ensure that all emergency ambulance responses are effective, efficient and timely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31590/13]

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Written answers (Question to Health)

A tragic event occurred in Kerry last week which was widely reported. Firstly, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of the child involved. The loss of a loved one is hard for family and friends at any time, but the sudden and unexpected death of a young child is particularly difficult.

In relation to this incident, the facts are that, at 1.16 am on 18 June 2013, an emergency call was received for a baby who was reported as not breathing. The National Ambulance Service (NAS) was initially unable to obtain sufficient details of where help was needed, which led to a delay in reaching the incident. The first emergency resource arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the initial 999 call. The patient was subsequently pronounced dead.

The incident has been the subject of a systems analysis, as is routine in cases where a death occurs, to ascertain whether call-taking protocols were followed. Following an examination of the facts, the HSE is satisfied that systems and processes operated correctly and there are no plans to carry out any further review. However, interrogation has been strengthened to try and mitigate the impact of a call where the incident location cannot be identified. In addition, HSE Communications has been requested to run a publicity campaign to improve public awareness of the need to communicate precisely the locations of incidents. In the interest of respecting the dignity and grief of the family, I wish to make no further comment on the specific incident.

A significant reform programme has been underway to totally reconfigure the way the HSE manages and delivers pre-hospital care services, to ensure a clinically driven, nationally co-ordinated system, supported by improved technology. The National Control Centre Reconfiguration Project, which is endorsed by HIQA and which represents international best practice, will reduce the number of ambulance control centres to a single national control system, with significant investment in new voice, data and mapping technologies. The project is also a key element of Future Health: A Strategic Framework for Health Reform in Ireland 2012-2015.

Both HIQA and the NAS have had concerns over control and dispatch structures at some control centres leading up to the development of the national control system. Accordingly, the NAS moved the Cork and Tralee centres to its Townsend Street centre on an interim basis in May, to mitigate such concerns pending completion of the national centre. Detailed preparations took place to ensure the safety of services during the move of the Cork and Kerry operations. The NAS provided additional staff, training, technology and equipment to assist this process. 112/999 calls from those areas are now answered in Dublin using improved technology. The NAS is satisfied that Townsend St, while not appropriate to the needs of the overall reconfiguration project, is nevertheless suitable and infrastructurally sound for the interim accommodation of these centres.