The National Ambulance Service is to be asked to attend a future meeting of the council.

Ambulance service “not fit to meet needs” of Athlone

Staff burnout, low pay rates and a lack of coverage in Athlone on busy week nights were just some of the issues highlighted by Cllr John Dolan to describe the local ambulance service at the October meeting of Athlone Municipal District this week.

Cllr Dolan branded as “an absolute disgrace” the fact that pay rates for hospital porters are now higher than for fully-qualified paramedics, many of whom have completed a Master's degree. “I know of one hospital porter who re-trained to become a paramedic and ended up going back to his old job because he couldn't survive on the wages in the ambulance service,” he said.

He also told the meeting that paramedics regularly complete shifts of up to 14 hours as they can get held up for hours in A&E. “They might be on duty but they are burnt out, and the question I want to know is 'how can this be allowed?”

Noting his own involvement with local ambulance personnel, Cllr Dolan said he “wouldn't be here” were it not for the service, and he submitted a motion to the meeting calling on the National Ambulance Service to give a presentation to councillors in an effort to address the many problems being experienced at local level.

He also asked the council to write a letter to Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, requesting additional funding for the ambulance service. “I am told that funding would fix this problem, and if we learned anything from the pandemic it is that funding should not be a barrier.”

Cllr Dolan received unanimous backing for his motion with Cllr Aengus O'Rourke saying that this issue has been “ongoing for years” and, despite the fact that local representatives had been told that plans were afoot “to beef up the service, nothing has happened.” He further claimed that the ambulance service, as it currently stands, is “not fit to meet the needs” of the heavily-populated Athlone region.

Cllr Dolan had earlier told the meeting that only two of the four ambulance stationed at the Athlone ambulance base are “in service at any one time” and that on Tuesday nights, which is one of the busiest nights in Athlone with large numbers of students out socialising, there is only one ambulance on duty. “To have ambulances sitting out there with nobody in them when people are in need is a disgrace,” he said.

The Fine Gael Cllr also said that “on one particular Tuesday night, the paramedics on duty had clocked over 600km on their shift as they had to go as far as Naas.”

Cllr Paul Hogan said he had heard anecdotally of situations where ambulances had to be sent into Athlone from other areas to provide cover. “With such high levels of students in the town, and an increasing general population, it would be expected that the ambulance service would improve,” he added.

The meeting decided to invite the National Ambulance Service to give a presentation to a future meeting of the municipal district, and a letter is also to issue to the Health Minister seeking additional funding for the local ambulance service.