The first three of 64 ambulances being provided this year in a €9.4 million investment under the fleet replacement programme were unveiled by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar today in Dublin Castle, along with a new Rapid Response Vehicle.
The 64 vehicles will be allocated to ambulance bases across Ireland before the end of the year to replace vehicles which have reached the end of their life-cycle, and to support additional services. A Rapid Response Vehicle was also unveiled today, which will allow paramedics to get to the patient and start treatment while an ambulance is in transit.
All 64 ambulances are being delivered under a contract signed earlier this year with Wilker Auto Converters of Clara, Co. Offaly through the HSE fleet replacement programme. The contract is expected to deliver cost savings of about 12% over the life of the contract.
In addition to standard equipment such as cardiac defibrillators and 12-lead ECG monitors, the vehicles are fitted with additional equipment including mechanical in-vehicle CPR. Paramedic teams have also been given direct access to cardiac catheterisation labs for patients with cardiac conditions, and will no longer have to attend the nearest ED for diagnosis.
Minister Varadkar said: “I’m delighted to see these vehicles coming into service. It’s a very significant investment in the ambulance fleet which allows us to support extra services and replace older vehicles. Each ambulance is equipped with state-of-the-art technology as standard. Our ambulances and crews cover enormous distances every year so it’s vital that we continue to upgrade the fleet, to allow our highly-trained paramedics to give the best service they can, when and where our patients need it.
“At the same time we are modernising the ambulance service to better reflect 21st century healthcare, including the use of Rapid Response Vehicles like the one on display here today. In some instances these can actually be more effective than an ambulance. And the Ambulance Service continues to expand the 130 community first responder groups operating in 18 counties. These local volunteers are dispatched at the same time as an ambulance, and more groups will be set up next year.
“The NAS does a fantastic job along with the vehicle builders and service agents to keep hundreds of emergency cars and trucks on the road every day of the year, over millions of kilometres, with very few incidents. I really think this needs to be acknowledged. And I’m also pleased that additional resources will be provided to the Ambulance Service next year following Budget 2016, to ensure ongoing improvements in service delivery.”
The NAS fleet replacement programme is part of an ongoing investment in equipment, technology and clinical standards. This includes:
• the introduction of Rapid Response Vehicles, which allow paramedics to get to the patient and start treatment while the ambulance is in transit;
• the Emergency Aeromedical helicopter service;
• the Intermediate Care Service for non-emergency patient transfer;
• and the move from regional services to a national service.
The Ambulance Service is using new technology including a single national control system, TETRA digital radio and communications, vehicle tracking and computer-aided dispatch. This means that the closest available resource is dispatched to an emergency incident.
Martin Dunne, Director of the National Ambulance Service said: “These are the first of the 64 vehicles for the National Ambulance Service which is part of our vehicle replacement strategy and it is great to see them now entering service. These vehicles will make a big difference to NAS in the work that the paramedics and advanced paramedics do each day. They have the latest technology and are energy efficient so we are doing our bit for the environment also.”
The Service operates cardiac testing and monitoring so that patients can be triaged at the scene and brought directly to a cardiac centre if necessary. Its vehicles also carry defibrillators, as well as mechanical in-vehicle CPR devices. The community first responder capacity is constantly being expanded, where local volunteers are dispatched at the same time as an ambulance.
Commenting on today’s announcement, OPW Minister Simon Harris said: “This contract, put in place by the Office of Government Procurement, gives the NAS access to the latest technology and vehicle advancements for its fleet. It is a very positive development that these ambulances are provided by an Irish SME under a contract that is delivering significant value for money for the State.”
The National Ambulance Service (NAS) has 500 vehicles, which travel more than 20,000,000 kilometres a year. The fleet includes 254 emergency ambulances and 52 rapid response vehicles (RRVs). There are also 48 intermediate care vehicles, for inter-hospital and non-emergency patient transfers, and which can carry more than one patient if needed.
New technology continues to be introduced into NAS vehicles. Additional equipment, including cardiac defibrillation and monitoring, as well as mechanical in-vehicle CPR, are benefitting patients. Direct access to cardiac catheterisation labs by paramedic teams further improves the care that can be given to patients with cardiac conditions.
The NAS is continually improving its vehicle and environmental performance. For example, the ECO vehicle system reduces prolonged engine idling – the system runs the stationery ambulance’s engine only when needed for power supply. Also, in 2015 all new vehicles are fitted with smart diagnostic systems, to identify potential operating difficulties early.
In recent years, the NAS has embarked on a strategic investment programme to develop a modern, quality service that is safe, responsive and fit for purpose. The Service is implementing a significant reform agenda, in line with strategic changes underway in ambulance services internationally, to deliver high performance and efficiency and cope with increasing demands. This is in line with the recommendations of Future Health, A Strategic Framework for Reform of the Health Service 2012–2015, for a clinically driven, nationally co-ordinated system, supported by improved technology.
The contract will run for two years, with an option to extend until 2018. The contract is expected to deliver very significant cost savings – about 12% of estimated purchases over the life of the contract.
The CAD (computer aided dispatch) system will, following successful testing, provide in-vehicle and control centre navigation through the mobile data system in each ambulance. Following operational assessment, the new Eircode geolocation system is expected to be one of the resources available to the NAS in navigating to the scene of an incident.