10 May 2007
Ambulance crewing reaching crisis point
The Government must confront the worsening situation in New Zealand ambulance services which has reached a new low, with around 70 percent of all emergency call outs in the Central District being responded to by single crewed ambulances over recent months, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.
"People are dying. Information from frontline ambulance officers shows they are being faced with a terrible decision - to drive or to tend to their patients. There were three cases over a one month period in the Horowhenua alone that suggest single crewing may have contributed to the death of a patient. While this is only one region it appears officers are routinely being put in situations where they are expected to drive an ambulance and administer to a patient at the same time.
"Many aspects of an ambulance officers' job cannot be handled alone, such as performing CPR and lifting an immobile patient onto a stretcher and into the ambulance, and it is putting people's lives at risk to send single crewed ambulances to emergencies," Ms Kedgley says.
"The National Ambulance Standard, which stipulates that emergency call outs should be responded to by qualified double crews, is being consistently breached. Disturbingly, it appears that the quality of care New Zealanders can expect when they make an emergency call depends on where they live.
"In response to my oral questions in the House today, the Government acknowledged what ambulance officers have been saying for some time.
"Asked to explain how ambulance officers were expected to drive and tend to patients simultaneously, Mr Anderton replied 'Common sense would tell me that's impossible and it's not required or expected.'
"Mr Anderton is right that it's impossible, but dead wrong that it's not required or expected. St John's own figures suggest around 50,000 emergency ambulance calls were attended by single crewed ambulances last year," Ms Kedgley says.
"Furthermore, the Government has absolutely no idea how many people are dying or becoming disabled as a result of single crewing because they only monitor response times, and have no record of whether an ambulance arrives singled crewed, and could treat and transport patients properly.
"We need proper reporting mechanisms, and the National Standards must be given mandatory force. The funding to do this must be made available as a matter of absolute urgency," Ms Kedgley says.