Header Item Food Safety Authority Inspections (Continued)
 Header Item Ambulance Service Provision

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 788 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] This problem may have been caused not by a lack of regulations but by a lack of respect for those regulations and the need to enforce them. Common standards across the European Union require full traceability and accurate labelling. If a product comes from one European country into another and is labelled incorrectly, that is a matter of enforcement rather than new regulation. We are collectively examining the issue of traceability and country of origin labelling at European level. This incident will help to inform that ongoing debate in terms of the need for more accurate labelling on country of origin.

The type of burger concerned was a frozen product comprising 63% meat, with the remaining ingredients including onion and other filler protein. The protein should have been derived from a beef-sourced product. It is of concern that 29% of the meat content of the burger was horse meat, which means that 20% was horse meat overall. It is difficult to explain how that happened and we are taking a tough line with everybody involved to ensure we get the full facts so that we can provide an explanation to this House at the earliest opportunity, because consumers and, most important, buyers of Irish food across the world need to know we are on top of the matter.

This incident involved a small segment of the Irish food industry. The frozen burgers concerned were sold predominantly in the Irish and British markets. The vast majority of the beef we export to 165 different countries is fresh meat either on the carcass or processed in some way. However, even though this issue is specific to frozen burgers in a particular price category, we need to enforce the same standards, because every consumer, regardless of what he or spends on food in Ireland, is entitled to the same assurances and quality control systems.

We are taking this matter very seriously but it does not give rise to food safety issues. It is not like the dioxin scare in pork or a disease scare in animals. There is no threat to human safety. It is a question of traceability and labelling. It has been flagged because we have a structured and comprehensive system of checks. We will get to the bottom of the matter and do everything we can to ensure it does not happen again.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I ask the Minister to clarify how small were the traces of pigmeat in the other burgers.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney In most cases they were minuscule. In one case they comprised 15%, but it subsequently emerged that the label on that product stated that it contained pigmeat. The meat processor concerned contacted us to complain that it was being lumped in unfairly with the other products. The vast majority of products contained less than 1% and in most cases the amount was closer to 0.1%. This quantity of pigmeat can be explained by the way in which we produce and transport food. A refrigerated lorry that carried pigmeat a few weeks ago may still contain a tiny molecule of pig DNA even after it has been power-hosed and cleaned. It is important that we put this matter into context. However, that does not explain the presence of horse meat, which is a serious issue deserving full investigation.

Ambulance Service Provision

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this topical issue and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy White, for coming to the House to respond to it.

Above all else, people are concerned about their health, and if they are injured in an accident or suffer a heart attack or a stroke they want to be assured that the system of ambulance cover throughout the State will give them the best chance of survival, with prompt medical attention on site and efficient transfer to hospital. I commend our paramedical staff on the tremendous work they do, in often horrific circumstances.

The State is covered by 86 ambulance stations. Under the Croke Park agreement the issue of inefficiencies in rostering arrangements in ambulance stations was referred to the Labour Court following intensive discussions between the HSE's national ambulance service and trade unions representing paramedical staff. The Labour Court subsequently issued a recommendation directing the national ambulance service and the trade unions to address a number of overtime-generating inefficiencies within rostering arrangements. Discussions have concluded at 30 ambulance stations on changes to rosters and 25 will now operate on a 24-hour basis, 365 days per year. However, the stations in Maynooth, Baltinglass, Swords, Athy and Arklow will not have an ambulance on stand-by for immediate dispatch for 12 hours per week. This means there will be no local cover for the equivalent of 26 days, or almost one month, each year.

Maynooth ambulance station covers a population of 60,369 in the towns of Celbridge, Leixlip, Clane, Kilcock and Straffan, as well as Maynooth. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every Thursday, no ambulance is available for dispatch directly from Maynooth ambulance station. In the event of an emergency, an ambulance would have to be sourced from Athy, which is 90 minutes distant, Naas, which is one hour distant, Dublin or Cavan. I do not want to scaremonger but it would be inefficient to allow this situation to continue if it puts people's lives at risk. The national ambulance service has pointed out that two new rapid response vehicles operate in south Dublin and Kildare and that a new hospital transfer service has increased ambulance capacity. However, neither I nor the people of north Kildare are satisfied with the current arrangement.

If full cover can be retained in 25 stations throughout the country, why can this not be achieved in Maynooth? What is the cost of reinstating dispatch from Maynooth on a 24-hour basis, 365 days per year? I ask that the matter be reconsidered because I cannot understand how savings can be made through the changes that have been introduced. If the Minister of State does not have specific information I will be satisfied if he passes the information to me subsequently. I have been trying to get information from the ambulance service but it is like pulling teeth from hens.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I thank Deputy Stagg for raising this issue, for drawing attention to the improvements made in the HSE national ambulance service, NAS, and for affording me the opportunity to outline the ongoing delivery by the HSE and its workforce and representatives of important changes in the way our emergency ambulances and crews are deployed.

The Deputy is correct that the NAS is progressing a number of efficiencies arising from the Labour Court decision following a referral to it under the public service agreement. These include the issue of overtime built into rosters and a change from on-call to on-duty service. The elimination of on-call rostering was sought by ambulance staff. The referral to the Labour Court was in line with the Croke Park agreement. The court has issued a binding recommendation directing the NAS and the trade unions to address a number of inefficiencies in rostering arrangements. New rosters are in place and are operating successfully in a large number of stations, including Tallaght, Swords, Maynooth, Kildare, Wicklow and Cavan.

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