Ambulances still kept waiting at hospitals

AMBULANCES in some parts of the Hunter take more than 15 minutes to arrive at life-threatening emergencies, as response times continue to blow out across the region.

Paramedics regularly being forced to wait, sometimes for hours, to off-load patients at over-crowded Hunter hospital emergency departments are primarily being blamed for the delays.

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Internal NSW Ambulance Service data obtained by the Newcastle Herald reveals median response times to cases where patients suffered cardiac arrests, strokes and other life-threatening conditions was almost 20 minutes at some Hunter ambulance stations last financial year.

This means at least 50per cent of potentially life threatening cases were responded to within this time.

The full extent of delays in triple-0 response times, including maximums and minimums, is not known.

NSW Ambulance data shows the state median response time last financial year was 10.06 minutes and 10.33 minutes for the Sydney metropolitan area.

This compares to 18.22 minutes at Dungog, 16.53 minutes at Morisset, 16.07 minutes at Raymond Terrace and 14.82 minutes at Beresfield.

The data showed ambulances at 18 of the Hunter’s 26 stations took longer to get to emergencies last financial year than the year before.

In 2009-10 only five Hunter ambulance stations had median response times better than the state average. This deteriorated to four last financial year.

Health Services Union Hunter sub-branch president Peter Rumball said lives were being put at risk every day as triple-0 response times continued to ‘‘get worse all the time’’.

Mr Rumball said paramedics were ‘‘constantly’’ forced to wait ‘‘hours and hours’’ to off-load patients at overcrowded emergency departments, hindering their ability to respond to emergencies.

‘‘It needs to be clear that access block is a hospital problem, it’s not the doctors’ and nurses’ fault, they are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances,’’ he said.

When asked why the Hunter’s response times were so much longer than the state average, a NSW Ambulance spokesman said the number of triple-0 calls had increased and the service was working with Hunter New England Health on performance issues, including patient hand-over delays at emergency departments.

Hunter New England Health’s director of nursing and midwifery Karen Kelly said there had been a 6per cent increase in emergency department presentations at the John Hunter Hospital in May when compared to the same time last year.

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