Fears letter signals end of service

Pauline Buchanan. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Pauline Buchanan. PHOTO: ODT FILES
South Otago St John supporters fear a letter issued by the organisation yesterday may signal the end of a paid paramedic service based in Milton.

Following the receipt of more than 130 submissions on St John’s recently proposed "double-crewing" change for the district, Southland Otago district operations manager Pauline Buchanan contacted respondents detailing the organisation’s thinking behind the proposal, and its next steps.

Under the proposal, Milton’s sole paid paramedic would be shifted to Balclutha, leaving the station run by volunteers and with reduced capacity to respond to emergencies locally.

Despite the letter stating a final decision was yet to be made, supporters including Milton Medical Centre senior doctor Jane Gardner said they feared the opposite was the case.

"We were presented with a fait accompli and I don’t believe anything’s changed," she said.

"If we have an emergency here in Milton, what are we supposed to do? Unfortunately, it will be the patients who suffer."

In the letter, Mrs Buchanan explains a declining demand for emergency ambulance service in both Milton and neighbouring Balclutha would allow the area to be covered by a single, double-crewed, paid ambulance, based in Balclutha.

Double-crewing was part of a nationwide "service delivery model" that would improve patient outcomes on the way to hospital and improve the health, safety and wellbeing of staff no longer required to work alone.

"Since 2015, the number of incidents in Milton has declined steadily. On average, there are 41 incidents per month in Milton. Over the same period, workload has declined in Balclutha," the letter said.

"Well over half the incidents in Milton are responded to by other ambulances, predominantly from Balclutha.

"The proposal recognises the workload across Clutha no longer justifies two paid ambulances and that the area is best served by one paid ambulance based in Balclutha."

An alternative, volunteer-run "First Response Unit" service would be initiated in Milton, and a second added to Balclutha.

This would provide "greater resilience in each area", she said.

Brian McLeod, a Milton St John volunteer for 33 years and area chairman from 2009 to 2018, said he believed the letter showed the loss of Milton’s paid paramedic was a "foregone conclusion".

"The feeling from the way it’s written is the job’s already done.

"It’s very disappointing and a huge worry for local people. But we’ll keep fighting while we can."

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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