Ambulance roulette

THE O’Farrell government can’t say it hasn’t been warned.

For many months it has been obvious that, sooner or later, the dangerous game of ‘‘ambulance roulette’’ being played in the Hunter will be clearly linked to preventable loss of life.

That hasn’t happened yet, but recent cases of delayed response – where people died while waiting for ambulances – must impress the genuine danger on the minds of those in charge of health services.

The problem is simple enough. Hunter public hospitals don’t have enough beds, so when ambulances arrive with patients aboard, there is no room for them in the already full hospitals.

If patients can’t be admitted and the various stretchers and chairs in the emergency rooms are full, the ambulances are obliged to remain parked at the hospitals until some space can be found.

That means they can’t return to their stations and aren’t available to respond to new emergencies.

As often as not, those new emergencies have to be covered by ambulances from considerable distances away, resulting in delays that could, potentially, be life-threatening.

One might have expected that local members and ministers alike would have been desperately anxious to intervene to fix a problem that might so easily become a matter of life or death. Incredibly, there seems little sign that anything meaningful is being done to head off the danger.

Hunter people are entitled to wonder why this appears to be the case.

The answer that springs to mind is financial cost.

The solution to the problem is more hospital beds, and fully staffed hospital beds are extremely expensive.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, many will suspect that the government has decided that it would rather continue to dice with the lives of Hunter people than spend the money so obviously required to restore a safety margin to the health system.

If that’s true, the government should say so and be prepared to accept the electoral consequences.

If it isn’t true, the government should explain what it is doing to safeguard the lives of Hunter people and to ensure that ambulances are available to attend emergencies instead of being forced to sit parked at overloaded hospitals.

Water study query

GIVEN the recent finding of an elevated cancer incidence among coal-loader workers on Kooragang Island, calls for the release of an earlier study into the chemistry of process water used on the site seem reasonable.

The latest report states that the earlier, 2008 process water study ‘‘concluded the risk associated with the use of process water at the Kooragang and Carrington terminals was considered to be low and acceptable’’. That is comforting, to a point, but in the light of the latest findings it would be more comforting to have the entire 2008 study put on the public record so its methodology and conclusions can be thoroughly examined.

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