Ambulance service barely coping

By Brendan Manning

The Bay of Plenty ambulance service is being stretched to the limit with rising call volumes for minor injuries, a local St John spokesman warns.

''We've got absolutely limited resources that we're trying to use as appropriately as possible,'' district operations manager Jeremy Gooders said.

''Our calls range from the extremely life threatening, to calls that are considered quite minor.''

Between 10 and 15 per cent of all Bay of Plenty ambulance callouts are estimated to be non urgent.

Mr Gooders said some people called an ambulance for minor ailments because it was the first option that came to mind, which may not be necessarily be the right option.

''There's also an element in those people that to them it's an emergency and they're unsure - so they call us-which is perfectly reasonable.''

Nationally, non-emergency ambulance calls will be forwarded to a GP or responded to by a sole paramedic in a car to stem St John's $15 million-a-year loss.

Ambulance bosses have warned that St John's annual operating loss is unsustainable after nearly doubling from $8 million in five years.

Last year, the ambulance service received a record 337,000 emergency callouts.

''A lot of people don't need to be transported to hospital,'' St John's operations manager Michael Brooke said.

He estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of all emergency calls were non-urgent.

''That's a massive part of our workload. If we can reduce that, we can concentrate on getting to the life-threatening calls quicker.''

St John communications operations manager Alan Goudge said more than 1000 calls were received daily.

While Telecom vetted out the more ''malicious'' calls, the rest were ''triaged'' to determine the appropriate response.

''We get a range of calls from people that in effect have a view that - dare I say it - an ambulance can sometimes be equated to a taxi.''

Ambulances had responded to a 111 call about a ''severed finger hanging on by a thread'' only to find on arrival the injury needed a mere sticking plaster, Mr Goudge said.

St John's priority system has been changed from a priority one, priority two, priority three system to a new five-coloured coding system - purple, red, orange, green and grey.

A call classified as 'grey' could range from a toothache to a grazed knee, Mr Goudge said.

''A very amusing call was when a young lad of 7-years-old had rung us up to say that his dad was getting old, and that he was going to die.

''He was deadly serious at the time, he thought that his dad was getting old and that he was going to die. This was troubling him and so he rang 111 and asked for an ambulance.''

The call handler kept the child on the phone until an adult was available - his mother was in the bathroom.

''We had a bit of a chuckle about it and actually we've provided the mother with a recording of the call and I think their intention is to play it for this lad on his eighteenth birthday.''

Other examples of 'grey' calls include elderly who were feeling vulnerable.

''In our business you've always got to err on the side of caution.''

- Bay of Plenty Times

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