The Health Service Executive (HSE) has been warned not to abandon the West of Ireland after a confidential report highlighted how certain parts of the country are ‘too rural’ for ambulances to meet recommended response times.
Independent TD, Denis Naughten has demanded that ambulance service management not to “throw in the towel on rural Ireland” on foot of an ambulance capacity review which he says is “deeply flawed”.
He has slammed the health service for prioritising ‘saving money over saving lives’.
The unpublished report, seen by Deputy Naughten, says that Ireland is too rural to support an ambulance service comparable to that in England and to meet targets for response times.
It is recommended that emergency calls are responded to within eight minutes but this report says that just 6.6% of emergency calls in rural Ireland are responded to within that timeframe.
Across Ireland, 27% of calls were responded to within eight minutes.
The eight minutes target, set down by Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), ‘cannot possibly’ be achieved according to the authors of the report, Lightfoot Solutions a UK Consultancy.
Deputy Naughten says the report is flawed and doesn’t compare like with like.
“This report, which seems to base its conclusions on England, is not comparing like with like, and suggests that even with resources, only 64% of emergencies can have a first responder at the scene of the incident within eight minutes. Yet in Scotland, 74.7% of responses there were within the eight-minute target.
“In Northern Ireland their target for responses within eight minutes is 72.5%, with a minimum target not less than 65% in any area. Yet this report is stating that we cannot achieve that here in Ireland. The fact is that every delayed ambulance, potentially leads to the loss of a life, and geography should not determine if you should live or die,” he said.
Deputy Naughten says the report seems to be commissioned in order to preserve the status quo but what’s really needed is investment in ambulance services, not excuses as to why that investment should not take place.
“This report seems to be an attempt to justify doing more with less. They’re saying that even with €15 million extra, and 290 extra staff, the number of calls that would be responded to within eight minutes would be 65%. That’s why I’m so critical of it – I’m saying the resources of the ambulance service currently is spread so thin that we need to invest in more ambulances and more ambulance staff and we need that investment yesterday. In the case of heart attack, stroke or choking, or any serious incident that needs an emergency responder, it is holy water you’d need after eight minutes,” he said.
Deputy Naughten added: “It is amazing that, even though the ambulance response time figures were highlighted at the time that the Government was closing the smaller A&E departments such as in Roscommon Hospital, we were assured that we would have a ‘world class’ ambulance service.
“We now find that these communities are to be completely abandoned and the clear policy agenda across all State agencies is to forget rural Ireland, because saving money is now more important than saving communities or lives.”
Survey in progress to gauge Galway City’s traffic
Thousands of road users across Galway City are taking part in a survey over the course of November that many of them are completely unaware of.
Special data-recording cameras have been strategically placed on roads and at junctions dotted across the city providing information that will shape the future of urban transport plans.
Road engineers and consultants in Ireland have designated November as ‘the best neutral month’ to assemble data on traffic movements, cycle and pedestrian patterns and public transport usage.
Galway City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, told the Galway City Tribune that the data provided by such surveys was an invaluable source of information in relation to future strategic planning.
“It gives us an accurate picture of overall traffic volumes as well as identifying junctions that are either at, or over, their capacity levels.
“A huge amount of data in relation to traffic flows and volumes in the urban area is gathered in surveys like this that feeds into our future transport strategy,” said Mr McGrath.
He said that the data gathered from the traffic surveys was also useful from the point of view of ascertaining cyclist and pedestrian numbers and in establishing the use that was being made of public transport.
“This information will be coming on stream to the City Council and TII [Transport Infrastructure Ireland] from early next year.
“It will also provide us with a year-by-year comparison of traffic volumes in the city and at the key junctions where the biggest number of vehicles pass through.”
In the past, human counters and wire sensors spread across the road surface, have been used in traffic surveys but over recent years smart cameras are now considered the most efficient and accurate method of data collection.
The cameras – currently located in a series of locations across the city – can classify all categories of vehicles passing by, as well as cyclists and pedestrians, over various time periods. They are regarded as providing data accuracy levels of over 95%.
Progress on ‘Kingston’ recreation and sports facility
An application for planning permission to proceed with long-planned sports and recreation facilities at the ‘Kingston lands’ in Knocknacarra will be made in the first half of 2020.
A spokesperson for Galway City Council confirmed that an engineer has been appointed with the specific responsibility of progressing the Kingston project and a number of other significant amenity projects in the city.
“We have an engineer in place working on these projects. We are also awaiting the appointment of a further engineer who will be dealing with the wider issue of Sports Capital Grants,” he said.
Councillors approved outline plans for the lands – an unoccupied green space adjacent to St John the Apostle National School and for an overhaul of the existing sports facility on Millars Lane – in June of last year.
Included was provision for a children’s playground; changing rooms/community centre; outdoor gym equipment; a pedestrian walkway; a two-way cycle path; and 75 parking spaces.
A hockey pitch will be developed at Millars lane as part of the plan.
A pitch that can be used for both GAA and rugby, and a multi-use games area were also included in what have been described as the early stages of what will finally come before the Council as a completed proposal.
The Council spokesperson said the recently-appointed engineer would be “getting into the nitty gritty” before a Part 8 was completed.
Local councillor Donal Lyons (Ind) said that it was his hope the plans would come before the Council in the first quarter of next year, so that the applicable Sports Capital Grants could be sought without delay.
“There are two parts of the Kingston lands development – on of the pitches on Millars Lane. In the last City Development Plan, the objective was included that if the City Council developed pitches, they also have to develop changing room facilities.
“All that exists at the moment in Millars Lane are temporary changing room facilities,” said Cllr Lyons.
Cllr Lyons said the new appointment of an engineer to deal with the Kingston project – and the development of the ‘Swamp’ at Southpark – was welcome, and so too was the forthcoming appointment of someone to deal with Sports Capital Grants.
“We have got some money from the Sports Capital Fund for the all-weather pitch at Cappagh Park. The next part is floodlighting. There are also plans for Melody Park in Renmore – there are a number of different projects already in train,” he said.
When the Part 8 process commences, members of the public will have an opportunity to make submissions and a plan will be finalised, explained the Knocknacarra-based councillor.
“The outline plan has been debated long and hard and when it goes forward for Part 8, the public will be able to make submissions before it comes back for adoption.
“The next stage then would be to find funding,” he said.
Throughout the initial process, there had been a number of concerns raised by residents in estates adjacent to the proposed park – particularly from White Oaks where a proposed access route between Millars Lane and Kingston lands requires a previously gated access route to the estate to remain open.
The opening of this area has given rise to security concerns and resulted in alleged incidents of anti-social behaviour.
Speaking to the Galway City Tribune, a resident of another estate, Gort Siar, said while they had no objection to the plan in principle, the initial plan to create green space for Knocknacarra and for the children in the national school had been lost, and the facility was now more about accommodating sports clubs than it was about benefitting local residents.
“We’re definitely not happy with the plans as they are and we’ve had a number of interactions with councillors over the past two years,” he said.
According to this resident, initial plans satisfied the needs of the school, where pupils were currently forced to play on tarmac due to the lack of green space.
“This has moved so far away from a community space designed and proposed originally, and now it has moved to become a complex or entity that smells of a commercial operation.
“If you’re going to put a pitch in, I don’t have a problem, as long as it can be used for many disciplines and is not just being designed to suit one sports club,” he said.
The Gort Siar resident said it was his intention to make a submission to City Council on the plans, once the Part 8 process commenced.
It has been over 20 years since the creation of a public amenity facility on this green space at Kingston was first mooted.
Planning objectors ‘must be clearly identifiable’
A Galway TD has accused the Minister for Housing and Planning of “washing his hands” of proposals to ensure anyone who lodges an appeal with An Bord Pleanála must be clearly identifiable.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív called for legislation to be introduced to guarantee that any person who appeals against a planning decision must be identifiable – in an effort to prevent anonymous or vexatious appeals.
He cited the example of a planning application on the site of the former Warwick Hotel in Salthill which was approved by Galway City Council in June 2018.
A person named Iura Matel, with an address in Dublin, appealed the decision and sought an oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála. When the hearing convened the following January, the appellant was not present and it had to be abandoned.
Legal counsel for the developers, David Browne, said they were concerned over the legitimacy of the appeal, as Mr Matel’s name had been spelled differently on three documents submitted to the Board; correspondence sent by registered post was returned on two occasions and the Register of Electors did not show a ‘hit’ on various permutations of the name at the address given.
Deputy Ó Cuív said he was disappointed that Minister Eoghan Murphy did not intend to make changes to the law.
In response to a Parliamentary Question from Deputy Ó Cuív, the Minister said: “Legislative provision already exists to ensure appeals to An Bord Pleanála can identify appellants and gives the Board the discretion to dismiss appeals.”
The Galway West Deputy said this week: “There have been cases where people made appeals against planning permission, both at local government level and at national level, that did not live at the address they gave.
“There was one particular case that was highlighted in Galway recently where a person who clearly did not live at an address, appealed against local planning permission, having objected to it at the local authority stage of the process.
“When the appeal went to Oral Hearing, the appellant did not turn up and the applicant had made strenuous efforts to verify that the appellant did not live at the address given.
“In his reply to my question, the Minister fudged the issue. He said that legislative provision already exists to ensure appeals to An Bord Pleanála can identify appellants and give the Board the discretion to dismiss appeals.
“It goes on to say that the appellants name is published by the Board on the weekly lists on their website and that he does not intend changing the law to tighten up the issue. The reality is in the case where the applicant, who has been appealed against by an anonymous appellant, should have had the case dismissed,” said Deputy Ó Cuív.
He said the law needs to be strengthened and suggested that a PPS number or relevant tax number should be required from all appellants.
“Furthermore, I believe that if an address is given, that the Board should have the power to insist on proof of address being given, if they believe the person does not live at the address they have submitted in their appeal. I will continue to press this matter, despite the rejection by the Minister of the case that I made,” he said.