Ambulance delay danger

THE politics of emergency healthcare in NSW is becoming dangerously fraught.

Ambulance officers and staff at hospital emergency departments, frustrated at their inability to move patients quickly and smoothly through the system, are tempted at times to blame one another for the problem. They shouldn’t do that.

The fact is, both the ambulance officers and the hospital staff are doing their utmost within an overburdened system.

In the Hunter it has been blindingly obvious for at least a few years that the major trauma hospital often has too few functioning beds to satisfy all the demands being made on the institution.

This fundamental flaw manifests in a variety of ways, most notably the inability of the system to see and admit emergency presentations within the accepted appropriate guidelines.

It must be stated that this is not unique to the John Hunter Hospital. The Calvary Mater – also severely under-bedded – performs even worse by these measures, but many people appear to have stopped viewing that hospital as a realistic first option for most emergencies.

Hunter New England Health, which administers the John Hunter Hospital, runs a sprawling and diverse area that takes in not only the Hunter, but also swathes of the more politically sensitive Mid-North Coast and New England areas.

By state standards the area health service runs a tight ship, but there are signs it is being asked to do too much with too few resources. It isn’t clear how other centres within the area are faring, but Newcastle seems to be running close to breaking point.

The latest ambulance response figures highlight the problem.

Ambulances are taking longer to get to emergencies, putting lives in danger.

And while officials are coy on the subject, the Ambulance Service website is blunt in its assessment that the deterioration in response performance was ‘‘primarily due to longer off-stretcher times which limited the overall availability of ambulances to respond’’.

In other words, ambulances are parked at hospitals, waiting to unload patients for whom there is insufficient room.

While they are waiting, those ambulances and crews are unavailable to attend other emergencies. That means the ambulances that are available are spread much thinner, making delays inevitable.

None of this is new. It seems the government is awaiting a major tragedy to open its tightly tied purse strings.

Autism school win

COMMUNITY members who have worked so hard to ensure the expansion of the Autism Spectrum Australia school are entitled to feel proud of their efforts.

The 30-year-old school has been experiencing heavy demand for its services in recent times, making a shift of address and an overhaul vital. A big community campaign made this happen, and now the state government is capping off the effort with a pledge of $400,000.

There are at least 100 children whose lives will be better as a result of this job well done.

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