Editorial: St John funding a concern in itself

By Dylan Thorne

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This week, we ran a story about ambulance service being stretched to the limit by increasing numbers of callouts for minor injuries.

St John, as we know, provides an essential service for the community as the first response to medical calls and accidents.

Often the initial medical treatment they provide can be the difference between life and death.

It's frustrating then, that ambulances officers are often rushing to what they believe is an emergency, only to find the patient in question has a minor ailment.

A St John communications officer says that some people have a view that an ambulance can be equated to a taxi. Officers 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.

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

A lot of those people don't need to be transported to hospital and, as St John's operations manager Michael Brooke points out, it is a massive part of their workload.

It also represents significant cost for a service that is already struggling to make ends meet.

In a bid to stem St John's $15 million-a-year loss and cut costs nationally, non-emergency ambulance calls will be forwarded to a GP or responded to by a paramedic in a car.

The Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation pay 80 per cent of St John's funding, totalling $223 million in the 2010/11 financial year. St John was working with the two Government funders.

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

What equates to a minor injury and an emergency can be a subjective thing, especially when you are in pain, but St John has taken a practical step to shore up its finances.

The move also combats those who are blatantly taking advantage of the service they offer. The fact such an important organisation is struggling for funding is a concern in itself and the sooner the shortfall is addressed the better.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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