The Athlone ambulance service responded to 177 calls from Center Parcs since 2019.

Center Parcs leads to rising demand for Athlone ambulance

The Athlone ambulance service responded to a total of 177 calls from Center Parcs since 2019 and 146 calls from the Athlone Accommodation Centre, a local authority meeting was told last week.

David Clarke, who is in charge of Integrated Service Operations (East) with the National Ambulance Service (NAS) told the April meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District that the increasing local demand for its service in the Athlone area has presented a number of challenges.

With a projected population of between 40,000 – 50,000 in the greater Athlone region by 2040, and the presence of Center Parcs, the Athlone Accommodation Centre, TUS, a vibrant tourism sector and a number of large industries, Mr Clarke said the “significant increase in capacity” has not been matched by a corresponding increase in resources.

In a detailed presentation to the April council meeting, Mr Clarke said there are also “very real challenges” in recruiting people to the ambulance service, despite the fact that there is a training base in the Midlands, located in Tullamore. He described recruitment as being “a significant concern” for the NAS in the Midlands.

“Hopefully, we will be in a position to employ some new staff in Athlone in the very near future,” he said. “But it is always a challenge to recruit new people into the service and retaining them is also a challenge.”

He said one of the key messages he would like to convey to the public is “not to call 999 unless there is a real emergency” as the NAS nationally receives a “very high number of low acuity calls” which can have a knock-on effect on the ability of the service to respond to emergencies. He added that they also get many “frequent callers” who seek an ambulance where one is not needed.

While Athlone is earmarked for a new ambulance base, Mr Clarke said the ambulance bases in Roscommon, Longford and Ballinasloe are in need of renovation.

The National Ambulance Service employs approximately 2,000 staff and has 300 vehicles. The geographical area encompasses three regions, North Leinster/South/West and the service operates from over 100 locations.

The Athlone ambulance station has 16 rostered and six non-rostered staff and two ambulances operate by day from Monday to Sunday. One of the most contentious aspects of the local service is the fact that only one ambulance operates in Athone on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with two ambulances on duty for the remainder of the week.

Cllr Paul Hogan, who works on the Athlone campus of TUS, pointed out that the busiest nights for TUS students to socialise in Athlone are the same nights that only one ambulance operates, and he described this as “worrying”.

He suggested that it might be a useful exercise to “map the travel patterns” of ambulances to see if they could be deployed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Cllr John Dolan outlined how he is involved with a defibrillator group in Athlone whose aim is to ensure that a defibrillator is available “within four minutes of a cardiac arrest” being reported.

There was a broad welcome from members to the NAS plan for a move away from a “hospital centric” model of care under the new Sláintecare vision. David Clarke said the new strategy for the service includes a significant increase in staffing numbers over the next 10 years and investment in career and infrastructural development.