Man dies during six-hour wait for ambulance

File photo
File photo
A Wellington man was found dead in his doorway six hours after calling an ambulance complaining of chest pains.

The man's family don't know how long he was waiting for help to arrive, but were told his death was being referred to the Coroner due to the hours-long wait for the ambulance to show up.

The 73-year-old's daughter-in-law, who wanted to only be referred to as Katrina, went on Newstalk ZB's Wellington Mornings show today, where she told host Nick Mills about how she and her husband were woken in the night by police a week and a half ago.
"They told us that my father-in-law had passed away. They said that he had rung an ambulance for chest pains and when they got there he had died already," she told Mills.

The man had gone to unlock his front door and was found dead in the doorway when paramedics arrived.

His son, who went to formally identify the body, was told the ambulance did not show up until six hours after he called for help.

The couple felt "absolute disbelief and anger" at the news.

"It just doesn't seem right," Katrina told NZME.

"My husband had to, like, zip his father up into a body bag and help load him into the hearse," she said, adding it would have been a "traumatic" experience.

Katrina hoped her father-in-law had died quickly, rather than having to wait, suffering, wondering when paramedics would turn up. She did not know how long it had taken for him to pass.

"It's just like a rabbit hole you don't want to go down," she said.

Her father-in- law was a "proud Tongan man that never really reached out for help", so it would have taken a lot for him to call an ambulance, she said.

An autopsy was no help, with the man's cause of death being ruled as undetermined. A pathologist has now taken tissue samples for further testing.

It's not known whether he would have survived if the ambulance arrived sooner.

But Katrina said there was a "bigger picture" around funding for ambulances.

Having worked in government jobs for years, she felt too much money was being spent on impractical things, when vital services were underfunded.

"It's diabolical," she said.

"There's so much money wasted in government."

Katrina urged anyone who was calling an ambulance to make sure they also called a friend or relative in case they also ended up waiting for a long time.

Wellington Free Ambulance told NZME it could not comment on specific cases.

"Like all healthcare providers Wellington Free Ambulance is experiencing unprecedented times and demand due to the ongoing impact of the global pandemic and now the impact of winter illness across our community," it said in a statement.

"Across the region we have a sustained increase in demand of more than 15 per cent above expected levels for the past two weeks. Over the last weeks calls to 111 nationally have been around 2000 each day, approaching similar numbers to those experienced during the peak Omicron surge in March."

Sometimes there could be a delay in ambulances arriving, especially if there was a high number of life-threatening incidents across the region, it said.

"Our clinical desk monitors any delays on non-urgent calls and provides a call back service to the patient to see if their status has changed and provide ongoing monitoring."

The clinical desk staff are all trained paramedics and can triage over the phone and upgrade a person's status should the situation warrant it.

"If things are getting more serious, they will reassess the priority of the call to ensure the patient receives the care they require more quickly. Where possible we endeavour to keep patients informed about how long the wait will be.

"Like most healthcare providers, we use a triage system to determine the status of the patient and the priority in which an ambulance crew should reach the person. This is why it is important for the call takers to be given as much information as possible to ensure the right priority is assigned."

Processes and response times are regularly audited.

"It is important to remember that each call we receive is part of the bigger picture of calls across a day or night, what our crews are currently attending or calls that have come in that have a higher priority assigned, such as cardiac arrest. We must ensure we are able to respond to the most life-threatening of situations immediately."

Last year Wellington Free Ambulance received 151,092 emergency 111 calls and responded to 51,302 incidents across the Greater Wellington and Wairarapa region.

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