I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I agree with only two lines of it, which are the references to “the selfless dedication to their work, of the paramedics in our ambulance service” and “the high quality of care that they provide”. I will speak first about targets and ambulance response times, which are vital. The current targets are not satisfactory. We are moving the target to 80% but should be setting an even higher one. We need to set a standard for the people to believe. It is ironic that Fianna Fáil has mentioned targets for the first time in the context of the ambulance service. The only target Fianna Fáil ever set was a target of 300,000 people who would become unemployed during the tail end of its reign. It was a disgraceful target.
My concern is about the centralisation of control and dispatch. Local knowledge is vital. We need further training on that for paramedics, particularly those who are newly qualified. Wherever they are sent, they should have proper coaching on locations. The thing I took from the “Prime Time” documentary was that it is sometimes important for a patient to know how long an ambulance will take to arrive or where it is coming from. If a person was close to a hospital but the ambulance was coming from a more distant location, he or she might be moved in a different way. We may have learned from the failures that have occurred to give people more information.
The current system is undergoing a transformation. It is vital to change the way we do our business. The most important thing to do is find a smarter way to spend the money we have. We are modernising and reconfiguring. It is important to ensure there are no longer county boundaries or districts within the ambulance service. We are introducing reforms. It is important to recognise that quality of care is not necessarily about the presence of an ambulance but the attendance of a person who has the relevant knowledge. In that regard, the attendance of a rapid response vehicle was vital in an incident at a swimming pool in Maynooth. The crew member had the necessary knowledge of how to treat the children involved. It is vital to look at getting people to the scene to help rather than necessarily to demand an ambulance every time.
There has been criticism of where the service has gone. The statistics indicate that there are in fact 300 more paramedics than there were in 2008 at the end of the Celtic tiger period. The population was not that much different then but the spend by the previous Government on the paramedic service was abysmal. We have 534 vehicles in the ambulance fleet, which is an increase of 74 since 2010. Rapid response vehicles represent an exciting way forward.
We have spoken throughout the debate about target times. It is not always about that. The most important thing to do is to try to save people’s lives. If an ambulance arrives late according to the target time but saves a person’s life, that is the most important thing. I support fully what we are doing to reform the service and ensure we get people on the scene as quickly as possible, albeit not necessarily in an ambulance.