Ambulances resources on the Coast are stretched according to the ambulance union.
Ambulances resources on the Coast are stretched according to the ambulance union. John Hammond - Noosa News

New ambo plan 'deadly'

A NEW "business plan" for NSW Ambulance will delay ambulance response times and may have already led to the death of a South Grafton man, two Grafton paramedics have told The Daily Examiner.

The ambulance officers, who asked not to be named, said a significant number of the station's 16 ambos were upset about the changes which were brought in about a month ago in the name of cost-cutting.

They said a new "blanket rule" had come into place that "no off-duty ambulance officer was to be called out" for jobs. Instead, medical emergencies were being tasked to Maclean or Woolgoolga ambulance crews, causing signi- ficant delays, they said.

One officer said the official department line that off-duty officers would be called out "in exceptional circumstances" and with permission from the boss of the radio room was a fallacy.

"All the radio operators have been told not to bother asking….it wont be approved," said the veteran paramedic.

"Many instances have happened where the opportunity existed to call out an off-duty crew, and with good reason, but was not done.

The patient waited for Maclean or Woolgoolga.

In one instance, he said, Maclean ambulance was tasked to a man with chest pain in South Grafton because both Grafton day crews were already on jobs.

"He ended up having a cardiac arrest and died," the officer said.

"If an off-duty Grafton crew was sent to that job, there's every chance that he would have received the right treatment and survived; chest pains should always be deemed as serious. Ask any doctor."

To make matters worse, the officer said, the department's radio control centre was now autonomous as it's own division whereas it previously came under the control of geographical divisions.

"So the local superintendent had the ability to override stupid decisions made by the radio room; this is no longer the case," he said.

He said he believed last weekend's delay in the despatch of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Heli- copter to a Pacific Hwy crash at Harwood was a direct result of the restructure.

The officers listed other changes and consequences of the new plan including:

The use of NSW Fire Brigade for first-response medical callouts rather than just medical assists as was previously the case.

Category 2 or "Cold Response" calls to triple-0 experiencing significant delays - "You've got little old ladies lying on the floor after a fall waiting for an hour-and-a-half," one officer said.

On-call crews in Maclean and Yamba have been banned from doing hospital transports from Maclean to Lismore at night. Instead, Grafton crews are tasked to these jobs which in turn depletes Grafton's resources. "This happens every second night," said one officer.

"What is worrying us is that we are being tasked to a job that's old; we get there and people are cranky," he said.

The officers said they'd rather miss some sleep than wake up to find they were not called to a job where someone had died.

One of the paramedics said the new plan had been implemented in Western NSW a few weeks ago but had already been abandoned.

The Daily Examiner emailed questions to the NSW Ambulance about the issues above on Thursday afternoon but no response was received by late yesterday.

The service responded to related inquiries to the Northern Star earlier this month. Here is one of the statements: "The Ambulance Service would like to reassure the community that the new guidelines will not impact on service delivery, and we will continue to provide the best pre-hospital clinical care to all patients throughout the State."

Triple-0 call categories

Medical calls to Triple-0 calls are "triaged" into two broad categories according to seriousness: a Category 1 "hot response" or a Category 2 "cold response" using a computer program. Grafton paramedics listed the sub-categories below.

  • 1A: cardiac arrest /imminent death
  • 1B: chest pains, breathing difficulties, unconscious, car accident with trapped persons
  • 1C: stroke, multiple injuries, serious bleeding
  • 2A: broken bone, faints, falls, bleeding wounds, psychiatric, diabetes
  • 2B: minor wounds, gastro, sprains
  • 2C: headache, colds, splinter, health check

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