St John warns of price hikes or emergency no-shows

By Martin Johnston

St John chief executive Peter Bradley says the service needs millions of dollars in funding and hundreds of new ambulance staff to end single-crewing. Photo / Richard Robinson
St John chief executive Peter Bradley says the service needs millions of dollars in funding and hundreds of new ambulance staff to end single-crewing. Photo / Richard Robinson

New Zealand's main ambulance service has warned it will need to hike charges or stop going to some emergencies.

In a letter to Government agencies St John chief executive Peter Bradley says the service needs millions of dollars in funding and hundreds of new ambulance staff to end single-crewing.

"An increase in the part charge to $150 would realise around $5 million a year in extra income," his letter said

Bradley told the Herald on Sunday the $150 was just one scenario.

A more likely option was $98 - up from the $88 charged for any non-ACC ambulance callouts. The warning comes as St John goes to war with the Government over funding and staffing. The Weekend Herald yesterday revealed the charity has told the Government it will stop sending ambulances to emergency call-outs within two years if they have to be single-crewed.

The issue has come under the spotlight after seriously unwell elderly South Otago woman, Marlene Dormer, died in a single-crew ambulance. Her daughter believes Dormer would have survived had the paramedic been supported by an ambulance volunteer or firefighter.

St John - which receives about 70 per cent of its funding from the Health Ministry, Accident Compensation Corporation and district health boards - says it needs 350 extra staff costing $21m.

About 10 per cent of St John's emergency call-outs are attended by a single-crewed vehicle and in rural areas it rises to 21 per cent.

First Union says single crewing is dangerous and a serious problem in rural areas. "Without that second pair of hands, both the paramedic and the patient are put at risk," said union spokesman Neil Chapman.

A St John ambulance officer, who requested anonymity, said the dangers had been compounded by the requirement to use dashboard-mounted tablets or mobile data terminals (MDTs).

When driving alone to an incident at up to 130km/h, the distraction of having to read the tablet for information such as address corrections or advice that the scene is unsafe could cause an accident.

St John said the MDTs were considered best practice for emergency services, reduced response times and staff were expected to use them safely.

- Herald on Sunday

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