Second ambulance crisis death prompts calls to hire retired paramedics

·News Reporter
·3-min read

An elderly man has become the second person in a day to die after waiting two hours for an ambulance in Perth.

The man, in his 80s, called 000 at 8.15am on Sunday, complaining of abdominal pain, Nine News reported.

He was marked as a Priority 3 patient, meaning paramedics should arrive at his Bellevue home, in the city’s east, within an hour.

However, he was still waiting when St John Ambulance called at 10am to conduct a welfare check.

A paramedic stands with his back turned to the camera
It took paramedics almost two hours to respond to an elderly man's call to triple zero. Source: Getty

At that point, the man was experiencing severe chest pain and was upgraded to a Priority 1.

By the time an ambulance finally arrived five minutes later, he was suffering a heart attack and died before arriving at hospital.

A formal investigation into his death has been launched.

The tragedy came just hours after a Perth grandmother lost her life while waiting for medical assistance.

Georgina Wild, 80, had phoned 000 at around 2.30am on Sunday with chest pains.

An hour later, the operator called back to say that there were no ambulances available.

By the time paramedics got to the Ashby home, almost two-and-a-half hours after Ms Wild rang for help, she had died from a suspected heart attack.

Georgina Wild
Georgina Wild died after suffering a suspected heart attack while she waited for an ambulance to arrive. Source: Nine Nws

Both deaths came on the same day St John Ambulance issued an emergency alert for delays, citing high demand and a massive crew shortage due to Covid.

On Wednesday, the Western Australian government announced it would station senior health department and WA Police representatives at St John Ambulance headquarters to assist the service.

Calling paramedics out of retirement would ease a health system in distress

Health professionals have slammed the hold-up for help as a health system in distress.

“In WA in the last few months, we have had five deaths [linked to the ambulance crisis],” Professor Jaya Dantas from Curtin University’s School of Population Health said.

“This is not good enough because most of these deaths could have been avoided.”

She has hit back at the state government’s stop-gap, Band-aid efforts, saying what’s really needed is serious action to address ambulance waiting times and ramping outside hospitals.

“You don’t want a trained paramedic waiting in a hospital emergency department next to a patient on a stretcher,” Professor Dantas said.

“[The Government needs to look] at what could be done to put support in place, such as calling up paramedics that have recently retired, and funding to improve triage systems.”

Ambulances outside a hospital.
Professor Dantas says the federal and WA governments must work to address ambulance ramping times. Source: Getty

Report recommends sweeping shake up

The Public Administration has given St John Ambulance up to five years to improve its services before the WA government gives the contract to another provider or takes control.

In a 219-page parliamentary inquiry, which revealed that St John Ambulance didn’t meet its target response times in 2020-21, the committee handed down 74 findings and 48 recommendations on Thursday.

Among them, it found that the ambulance service and non-emergency ambulance service were not being operated separately as it intended.

It also cited that workplace culture was an issue, and recommended a comprehensive re-evaluation of the organisation’s structure and processes.

It will now be up to the state government to decide whether to adopt these recommendations or not.

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