Emergency response time targets published by Health Information and Quality Authority

Date of publication: 
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Emergency services should respond to immediately life-threatening emergency calls within 8 minutes, according to new recommendations published today by the Health Information and Quality Authority.

The Authority has published Pre-hospital Emergency Care Key Performance Indicators for Emergency Response Times, which ambulance services should start using immediately. The Authority’s report outlines time-based response targets for patients with emergency conditions such as heart attacks. It also requires service providers to begin publicly reporting their response-time performance later this year.

Measures aimed at ensuring that emergency service response times for patients in Ireland are comparable with other countries are contained in the report. It recommends that ambulance services must aim to be on the scene for life-threatening patient emergencies within set timeframes, and to achieve these in most cases. Director of Healthcare Quality and Safety with the Authority, Jon Billings, said, “Historically, the absence of such a system in Ireland has been a major gap in what is needed for a safe, good quality emergency response service.”

The key performance indicators (KPIs) being recommended by the Authority include appropriately trained personnel attending patients with life-threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest incidents within 8 minutes in 75% of all cases.

Jon Billings said, “A timely pre-hospital emergency team response to acute medical events, such as patients suffering from heart attacks, is known to improve the outcomes for patients. Experience in other jurisdictions shows that putting in place approaches to achieve these targets requires ambulance services to review how they provide the overall service and can result in widespread improvements in emergency care.”

Up to now Ireland has not gathered and monitored this information on a systematic basis and it will be necessary to begin collecting and reviewing response-time data. Jon Billings continued, “Implementing these KPIs is likely to require significant changes in the organisation and deployment of ambulance services in order to ensure that patients with the most serious emergencies receive the fastest on-the-scene response. Once the information is available in the HSE, the Authority will expect to see year-on-year improvements in performance across the system.”

The Authority has recommended to the Minister for Health and Children that these key performance indicators are introduced nationally from the beginning of the year in a phased approach, with reporting on a number of them from the middle of 2011.

While response-time indicators provide a valuable source of information, other factors, such as the training and skills of staff attending are also important and the report recommends this data is also collected. Response-time KPIs also need to be developed in conjunction with clinical performance indicators that focus on patient outcomes and the report recommends further work in this area. The Authority will continue to liaise with the HSE to ensure this important first step for patients with life-threatening illness is further built upon.

Further Information: 

Marty Whelan, Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement

01 8147481 / 086 2447623 mwhelan@hiqa.ie

Notes to the Editor: 
  • The full document, Pre-hospital Emergency Care Key Performance Indicators for Emergency Response Times, is available on the Authority’s website, www.hiqa.ie.
  • Pre-hospital emergency care is the emergency care provided by a host of emergency services before a patient is transferred to a hospital or appropriate healthcare facility.
  • International practice indicates that many jurisdictions use similar KPIs of an 8-minute (or 7 minutes and 59 seconds) response time for first responders to attend to a life-threatening incident.
  • Some countries use a standardised time of 19 minutes and other countries grade that time depending on the population of the area (urban or rural) for ambulances to attend the patient.
  • This report should be read in conjunction with the finalised National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare. Subject to Ministerial approval of the National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare, the Authority will commence monitoring compliance with the Standards during 2011 and will incorporate pre-hospital emergency care services in this process.