IT student Laurie Williams found the young Chinese woman
writhing on a toilet floor. Photo: NZ Herald/Sarah Ivey
A woman is appalled it took three emergency calls to get
help for an Auckland student writhing in pain at her inner-city
campus - less than a kilometre away from the ambulance station.
During the second call, the caller was told by a
Christchurch-based operator to phone a non-urgent 0800
number, which St John Ambulance service admits should not
A student and staff members at Auckland's Whitireia Community
Polytechnic campus are considering laying complaints over the
The drama unfolded when IT student Laurie Williams, 22, found
a young Chinese woman writhing on a campus toilet floor in
Queen St last week. She is believed to have been suffering
The woman's friend had already dialled 111, but because both
had limited English they passed the phone to her.
"They [the ambulance operator] basically asked things like
what was her name and where she was born and eventually after
10 minutes they agreed they would come and get her ... they
said go and wait outside," Miss Williams said.
But she said an operator called back saying they were "really
busy" and asked if she could further consult with the ill
woman over the phone. "The problem was she was in and out of
consciousness and wasn't really capable."
Miss Williams said she was told by the operator that a nurse
would call for a further assessment. She says no one called
A handful of staff members soon arrived in the bathroom,
including student counsellor Diana Fergusson.
She also called 111 but said an operator demanded the
student's vital details before she was able to send a
vehicle, leaving the woman in continuing agony as they went
through school records to find her information.
"I had a bad reception from the woman and she wasn't going to
call the ambulance either, she was very rude," she said.
"I said 'What the heck? Seriously? You're not going to send
an ambulance? This girl is going in and out of
consciousness'. But in the end she said to me 'I can't help
you I'm in Christchurch' and I said 'You've got to be
After calling the 0800 number, which is listed as a
"non-urgent" phone number on the St John website, an
ambulance arrived within 10 minutes and took the woman to
St John spokesman Robbie Walker said the first call at 3.31pm
was "correctly triaged as suitable for a further telephone
He said St John set targets for phone assessments of patients
within 30 minutes and this was met.
"When we triaged a higher priority response the attendance
time is eight minutes and this was met."
The second 111 call was answered at its Christchurch Clinical
Control Centre with the operator giving the 0800 number. An
ambulance arrived at 3.54pm.
Mr Walker admitted referring callers to the toll-free number
was not "regular process", but he said the initial operator
wasn't told the victim was unconscious.
"What should have happened is we should have linked the jobs
and updated the caller on the process instead of giving
Ms Fergusson said the response was "atrocious" and staff were
not equipped to deal with the situation and needed a
In late 2012, St John announced sweeping changes, which meant
ambulances were no longer sent to minor 111 calls, to help
stem its $15 million-a-year loss. Instead, such calls were
redirected to a GP or other health care, or a St John officer
would be sent in a car - rather than an ambulance with two
Another change to reduce the workload for ambulance officers
was in the way 111 calls were handled.
Earlier this year an internal report aimed at improving
ambulance service found St John was failing to get to
emergency callouts in Auckland and some rural areas inside
the time limits set for it.
First emergency call for a severely-ill woman at Whitireia
Community Polytechnic by her friend, and the phone given to
passerby Laurie Williams.
Second emergency call - a polytech staff member is told to
call an 0800 number for help.
The staff member calls 0800 number for ambulance.