Minor worries swamp St John telephone lines

Non-emergency ambulance calls in Hawke's Bay will be forwarded to a GP or responded to by a sole paramedic in a car to help cope with the organisation's rising national operating costs.

St John has recorded a record $15 million-a-year loss.

Officials say between 10 and 15 per cent of all Hawke's Bay ambulance 111 notifications are non-urgent callouts. This is putting a strain on ambulance resources.

Ambulance bosses have warned St John's annual operating loss is unsustainable after nearly doubling from $8 million in five years. Last year, the 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. "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, which 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 graze.

"A very amusing call was when a young lad - 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 18th birthday."

By the numbers

Patients treated and transported by ambulance in year to June 30, 2011:

  • Northern region: 162,805

  • Central region: 126,129

  • South Island region: 106,797

  • Total: 395,731

- Hawkes Bay Today

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