Time-wasters strain St John

By Imran Ali


St John paramedics in Northland are receiving up to seven non-emergency callouts a day as the organisation struggles with rising operating costs.

Between 10 and 15 per cent of Northland, and national, 111 callouts are non-urgent and strain resources.

St John has suffered a record $15 million loss last year, nearly double the $8 million of five years ago.

Acting district manager for Northland Wally Mitchell said changing their system from a priority one, two and three to a colour-coding system of purple, red, orange, green and grey had helped manage situations more intelligently.

Grey means St John will get to the caller when possible.

In the year to August, Northland St John received 16,512 emergency callouts, of which up to 15 per cent were non-urgent. People have called ambulances for stubbed toes, upset stomachs, flu symptoms and running noses.

The issue was first raised two years ago when St John warned people against treating ambulances as taxis.

St John was logging calls almost hourly to attend to minor injuries or illnesses.

Mr Mitchell said although the situation has improved slightly, it was still a problem and he advised people to consult their GPs.

Retirees sometimes dialled 111 simply to chat if they felt bored. St John has a caring-caller programme run from Auckland for such situations.

The ambulance service received a record 337,000 emergency callouts last year and 162,805 Northern region patients were treated and transported by ambulance in the year to June 30, 2011.

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

Telecom vetted the more malicious calls, but the rest were triaged.

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

- Northern Advocate

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