Family complains about ambulance call service

By Amy Shanks

The mother of a toddler who arrived "unresponsive" at Hawke's Bay Hospital has lodged a complaint with St John Ambulance Service after she claims the call centre was unable to clarify how long it would be before help arrived.

St John district operations manager Steven Smith confirmed an investigation was under way but could not comment further until an outcome was reached within the next 20 days.

Chantelle Billington and Steve Hemingway, both 18, discovered their 20-month-old son, Ryan, barely breathing on Sunday when he let out a scream about 9.45pm. Earlier that day he had been to the doctor with a wheezy cough and his mother was advised to keep up liquids, keep him warm and take him to hospital if it got any worse.

So when he woke with a start, their first instinct was to dial an ambulance, because the station was situated just moments from their Hastings home.

But a woman in the call centre could not advise just how far away the nearest ambulance was, and failed to suggest the possibility that it might be quicker to drive the child to the hospital's accident and emergency department.

"All she could say was that it had its lights and sirens on and was on its way," Chantelle told Hawke's Bay Today.

Meanwhile, grandmother Kathy Hemingway had picked up a panicked phone call and was on the way to her son's house.

"I was fully expecting the ambulance to be pulling out of the driveway, or for it to have already left when I arrived, but that wasn't the case," Mrs Hemingway said.

But when she saw Ryan, she knew immediately that he needed help and rushed him to the car.

"He was like a ghost, and his eyelids were blue, we were only three minutes in the other way to hospital; had the woman on the phone ascertained how bad he was, she might have been able to say help was still a while away and to take him there ourselves," she said.

On arrival at accident and emergency, they were met by a doctor who took Ryan through to a resuscitation room, where he was given adrenaline, steroids and a nebuliser.

"I knew he was bad but I didn't realise he was really, really bad," Mrs Hemingway said.

The toddler was diagnosed with croup, a viral infection which he had to a lesser degree about a month beforehand.

"Apparently, some children are more susceptible to it - it just comes on so suddenly," she said.

A complaint was lodged with St John, not because the family felt it wasn't good enough that the ambulance was busy, but that they weren't given the information they needed to make a decision.

"I understand there are other people who were probably high priority.

"My thing is, if the ambulance was so far away, they could have told [Chantelle] - it's three minutes, it's 20 minutes - saying it's got its lights and sirens on is no indication," Mrs Hemingway said.

"If it's 20 minutes, we could have well been at the hospital by then."

Ryan was released from hospital yesterday and is recovering at home.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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