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The union representing St John staff says a lack of resourcing is becoming increasingly critical, and there have been mounting calls for the Government to increase its funding.
St John says there is increasing demand for ambulances, and patients with life-threatening conditions have to be prioritised.
But the Minister of Health is refusing to be drawn on whether the service will get a cash boost in this year’s Budget.
Of the 9498 callers to St John in Otago and Southland this year, 818, or 9%, waited more than one hour for an ambulance to arrive.
In 2020, 2225 of the 30,789 calls took more than an hour. That was up on the 1993 out of 31,785 callouts the year before.
When comments were sought this week, dozens of people contacted the Otago Daily Times to share concerns about long wait times.
The union representing ambulance crews said it was not just patients who were affected.
First Union transport, logistics and manufacturing organiser Faye McCann said crews were under-resourced and experiencing burn-out.
"Turning up to patients who have had to wait for an extended period of time does take an emotional toll on front-line staff.
"They are in the job to help people and they, too, want patients to be seen in a timely manner," she said.
Under-resourcing also affected communications staff, as they often saw calls waiting to be answered and jobs waiting to be dispatched, with no ambulances free, she said.
"This is becoming an increasingly critical situation, as we regularly hear from front-line crews about long delays responding to priority jobs."
St John says calls where lives are at risk are given the highest priority and increasing demand for ambulances meant some patients had to wait if they were not critical.
"While we understand this can be frustrating for patients who have health issues that are not life-threatening, it is the right approach to prioritise the most urgent and time-critical patients in those times when all other ambulances are committed," Otago-Southland district operations manager Pauline Buchanan said.
Services worked as a network and aimed to send the closest, most appropriate ambulance to patients with the greatest need, as soon as possible, she said.
The patients spoken to by the ODT were full of praise for the staff who treated them.
Their concerns were the time it took for their calls to be assigned, and the resources available.
Dunedin woman Jade Barrell was bleeding heavily when she called 111 at 6.20am on September 22, 2020. A stitch had come out six days after perineal surgery.
Her request was initially classified as non-urgent rather than immediately life-threatening, so the dispatcher held off from assigning the job until a shift change at 7am.
The ambulance arrived at 7.15am.
In a letter to Ms Barrell seen by the ODT, St John acknowledged the dispatcher should have noted additional information and asked for an urgent review by a clinical support officer.
Had that been done, a better assessment could have been done and her incident could have been upgraded.
The incident was to be used as a case study for training staff.
In December, Mosgiel woman Pauline Latta delivered a 51,000-signature petition to Parliament calling for St John to be fully funded.
Yesterday, she described the situation as a "sad state of affairs", and said she was hearing more and more cases of under-resourcing.
St John receives about 72% of its funding through government contracts, although it received extra funding to help make up a Covid-related shortfall.
Its current four-year contract expires in July.
Minister of Health Andrew Little was unavailable for an interview yesterday but in a statement said the ministry monitored St John’s performance.
He would not be drawn on whether funding would be boosted, saying Budget announcements would be made on Budget day, May 20.