Life-threatening delays in ambulance response: unions

The region’s paramedics responded to more than 17,000 calls from April to June this year.
The region’s paramedics responded to more than 17,000 calls from April to June this year.

More than a third of the most critically ill or injured Illawarra patients waited more than 15 minutes for an ambulance in the past quarter according to new figures.

The Bureau of Health Information report revealed that patients with life-threatening injuries – such as cardiac or respiratory arrest – waited an average of 11.5 minutes, and up to 21 minutes, for an ambulance from April to June.

The region’s paramedics responded to more than 17,000 calls during the quarter according to Healthcare Quarterly, which was released on Tuesday.

Response times within the Illawarra zone – which includes 11 stations between Helensburgh and Huskisson – were in line with, or quicker, than the state average.

During the quarter, 63 per cent of priority 1 (emergency) incidents in the zone had a call to ambulance arrival time within 15 minutes, and 96.1 per cent were within 30 minutes. For priority 2 (urgent) incidents, 83.3 per cent had a call to ambulance arrival time within 30 minutes and 97.9 per cent were within 60 minutes.

BHI acting chief executive, Dr Kim Sutherland, said across the state ambulance activity increased by 2.3 per cent, with more than 274,000 responses to Triple 0 calls.

Despite that, she said call to ambulance arrival times in the two highest priority categories were similar to the same quarter last year.

‘’Call to ambulance arrival time is a valuable measure as it reflects patients’ experiences, spanning the time from when a Triple 0 call is first answered in the control centre to the time the first paramedic arrives at the scene,’’ Dr Sutherland said.

However paramedics’ unions said the report had set a 15-minute arrival benchmark for emergencies, when the accepted national benchmark was 10 minutes.

‘’Ambulances should reach life threatening emergencies within eight to 10 minutes at the latest,’’ HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said. ‘’This report shows that four times out of 10, they are not even getting there within 15 minutes. For a wealthy society this is unacceptable.’’

Australian Paramedics Association NSW secretary Steve Pearce said 500 more paramedics were needed statewide to meet demand.

‘’The longer it takes to get to an emergency, the less chance the treatment paramedics give a patient will count towards a good outcome,’’ he said. ‘’Paramedics are being forced to manage too many patients who have been left waiting for too long and their condition has deteriorated to a point where the situation is life threatening.’’

The report also showed that waiting times at Illawarra Shoalhaven emergency departments remained stable, with 68.8 per cent of patients leaving the district’s EDs within the four-hour benchmark.