St John reveals demand for its services continues to grow and what is sparking it. Sandra Conchie reports
Demand for ambulance services in the East and West Bay of Plenty region has significantly increased, including a spike in the number of mental health-related callouts.
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Data obtained from the St John New Zealand reveals emergency ambulance callouts in the region rose by more than 3000 or almost 7 per cent in 2019 compared with 2018.
That's close to double the national increase of about 4 per cent.
Leisa Tocknell, St John's territory manager for the Rotorua Lakes area, said the service responded to more than 46,000 emergency calls in East and West Bay of Plenty last year.
Tocknell said this included a significant rise in mental health-related incidents, up 16.5 per cent compared with the previous 12 months.
The group with the largest increase were those aged 70 to 79 years, and was often linked to loneliness and social isolation, she said.
Tocknell said the service had worked with its stakeholders to launch a cycling group for seniors to encourage people not only to stay active but help connect with other people.
Falls were up 11 per cent, and traumatic injury callouts rose 16.3 per cent, she said.
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"2019 was a horrific year for traumatic injuries and fatalities in the Bay of Plenty, particularly in Rotorua Lakes area after a number of multiple-victim road fatalities.
"I'm not sure why there has been such a jump but we do need people to ensure they keep their speed down, wear seatbelts and stay 100 per cent focused on their driving."
Tocknell said increased demand had stretched the ambulance services resources in the district especially at these times and put pressure on officers and volunteers.
Currently, there were 55 permanent frontline ambulance officers and five permanent for patient transfers "soon to be increased to 10", plus 30 casuals and volunteers covering the Rotorua Lakes district from Rotorua through to Omori.
"We have been doing a lot of work with the Rotorua Lakes PHO to try and reduce the pressure on our service and our staff.
"This includes making referrals to GPs and other primary health care providers for people with known risks of falls and mental health issues, and also to the Healthy Homes and smoking cessation programmes," she said.
Age Concern Rotorua manager Rory O'Rourke said increased ambulance callouts for seniors with mental health issues was indicative of what was being seen in the district.
"There are 10,000 over 65s in Rotorua and that's going to double in the next decade or so, and these types of issues are only going to grow," he said.
O'Rourke said staying connected with other people was "very important" for people's mental wellbeing particularly those who lived alone.
"That is why we introduced a scheme where accredited volunteers visit people in their homes and also assist those who need it to get out to do their shopping," he said.
St John's national operations director Norma Lane said last year St John responded to more than 440,000 incidents nationwide, almost 18,000 more than in 2018.
Lane said mental health-related incidents increased by 10 per cent nationwide in 2019 which was consistent with trends both nationally and globally.
"In the last six months we have responded to nearly 20,000 people in some form of a mental health crisis," she said.
Those aged 70 to 79 years make up 47 per cent of all mental health callouts, she said.
Lane said St John had worked hard to "take the pressure off the wider health system", with
170,000 people treated at home in 2019, given advice over the phone or directed to more appropriate care from clinicians rather than taken to a hospital emergency department.
2019 by the numbers:
Top 6 reasons for St John Ambulance calls:
Falls/back injuries (traumatic) 4652, up 11.1%
Breathing problems: 4300, up 15.2%
Tramatic Injuries: 2023, up 16.3%
Convulsions/fitting: 1702, up 23.7%
Psychiatric/suicide attempts: 707, up 16.5%
Stroke CVA: 1103, up 12.9%
Source: St John Ambulance
IF YOU NEED HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111. Or if you need to talk to someone else: • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7) • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • Youthline: 0800 376 633 • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm) • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7) • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 • Samaritans 0800 726 666