Waits for ambulance increasing

St John says life-threatening calls have to be given the highest priority. Photo: NZ Herald
Photo: NZ Herald
More than 5000 southern people have had to wait more than an hour for an ambulance since 2019, taking an emotional toll on stretched ambulance crews.

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.




Daisy, you clearly haven't been reading my posts. Very few in NZ know how the ambulance service works in NZ, or funded. Contracts are put out for each area and St John is one provider that tenders. They often undercut to get these contracts, then cry broke. From there on, St John cannot be topped up after they contract. Also as they are a registered charity, they cannot receive full funding. In fact for that reason, St John do not want to be fully funded. Through all this ignorance, the Pauline Lattas of this world run petitions that go nowhere.
The solution is to have a govt run service. The govt is happy to go that route but need public support. Whilst the public want a St John sticker on the side of ambulances, there will be no change.

Agree with GM, we're at a time when ambulance services should be a directly embodied and funded part of the public health system. The days of running a critical coal face nessessity as a charity is long gone. With the accouncement today about the DHB's, now would be an ideal time to drop the St John badge and intergrate the ambulance service directly into the national health system.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter