Four die while waiting for ambulances

Four people have died in less than a month while waiting for Hunter ambulances to come from distant stations because their local cars were busy or queued at John Hunter Hospital.

In one case, a 42-year-old Cessnock heart attack victim died just two streets from his local ambulance station.

The ambulance took up to 50 minutes to come from Cardiff and paramedics told the man’s family that their local car was ‘‘stuck at John Hunter Hospital’’.

Other suspected cardiac arrest cases reported to the Newcastle Herald include:

?An 80-year-old Gorokan man who died on June 17 while waiting 49 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Belmont while the Toukley ambulance was at John Hunter Hospital.

?An 80-year-old Cooranbong woman who died the next day after neighbours made a frantic call to triple-0 and waited 28 minutes for paramedics to arrive from Cardiff.

?An elderly Coalfields woman whose family waited 39 minutes earlier this month and was told an ambulance had to come from out of the area because all the local cars were busy.

Health Services Union Hunter sub-branch president Peter Rumball said the cases were “directly related to not having enough resources”.

“If the Ambulance Service can’t hit a cardiac arrest in 10 minutes or less, then they have insufficient staff,” Mr Rumball said.

“They are under-resourced, understaffed and it’s very clear that they can’t do the job the public charge them with.”

A NSW Ambulance Service spokesman maintained staffing levels did not affect the response times.

He said “staffing was above our normal crew deployments for these days” and the delays were caused by “surges in demand”.

Mr Rumball described the explanation as “blasé” and said the public had a right to be outraged at the continual blowout in ambulance response times across the Hunter.

He said the service had experienced a workload increase of up to 15per cent across the region since its last staff enhancement of four officers in 2007.

“If there is a surge in demand, as they clearly admit is happening very regularly, the Ambulance Service needs to be able to cope with it,” Mr Rumball said.

“Getting stuck waiting to offload patients at hospital emergency departments is a big part of the problem.”

While expressing her condolences to family and friends of the deceased, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner conceded blocked access to hospital was a problem.

“I have asked the Ministry of Health to look at ways of improving emergency department procedures as I know that, at times, ambulances can get caught up at hospitals,” Ms Skinner said.

The Herald reported earlier this year that in the past two financial years, Hunter ambulances had wasted the combined equivalent of a year sitting at overcrowded hospital emergency departments.

Internal NSW Ambulance Service figures revealed median response times to life-threatening conditions reached almost 20 minutes at some Hunter ambulance stations last financial year.

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