Three-hour wait to transfer man to hospital

SIGNS of ambulance paramedic shortages have emerged in the New England after a man suffering a cardiac condition at Walcha waited nearly three hours for a hospital transfer to Tamworth.

It is understood Tamworth paramedics one hour away were tasked to transfer the man, even though off-duty Walcha paramedics were on standby at the time.

The Leader received a call from someone involved in the matter who did not wish to be identified but wanted to question whether the wait was a symptom of recent emergency services budget cuts.

The NSW Ambulance Service confirmed the incident occurred, but insisted the man was under constant clinical care and said the on-call Walcha paramedics required adequate rest time.

The incident unfolded shortly after midnight last Tuesday, when a middle-aged Nowendoc man suffered chest pains.

He was initially picked up by local ambulance paramedics and taken to Walcha hospital, where he was stabilised but soon required further care at Tamworth.

About 1.30am, the request to transfer the man, who has an extensive cardiac history, was received by on-duty Tamworth paramedics, who are stationed 24 hours a day in the city. The Tamworth paramedics arrived at Walcha close to 4am, about three hours after the initial transfer request was received.

The Leader was told, rather than triggering the off-duty Walcha paramedics’ overtime payments, the decision was made to call Tamworth which could have put the man’s life at risk.

An NSW Ambulance spokesman said the patient was under constant clinical care at hospital, in a stable condition and did not suffer pain.

“Accordingly, an ambulance in Tamworth was tasked to transfer the patient when it became available,” the spokesman said.

“In accordance with NSW Ambulance fatigue-management guidelines, the Walcha on-call paramedics were not called out for this transfer, to ensure they received adequate rest time.”

The spokesman said, if the incident was urgent or life-threatening, the Walcha paramedics would have been called.

“By leaving Walcha paramedics at home and on call, they were available, should a more urgent incident occur,” he said.

The Walcha incident is not isolated and comes weeks after similar delays in the Hunter, including two cases in the Dungog area.

At the end of January and beginning of February, two people waited for ambulance paramedic crews dispatched from distant stations. One involved an elderly woman with cardiac issues who waited 38 minutes for an ambulance from Stroud; the other involved another elderly woman who suffered a fall at her Clarence Town home.

She waited for 53 minutes for an ambulance from Raymond Terrace.

The NSW Health Services Union (HSU) says the incidents expose the ongoing problems with ambulance paramedic shortages.

It has been involved in repeated clashes with the ambulance service over rostering and overtime issues.

NSW HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said it was beyond belief the government was pressing ahead with deep cuts to the ambulance service.

“Our members are already buckling under the strain of constantly being asked to do more with less,” he said.

Mr Hayes said if overtime costs were too high, it was because the state was short of at least 700 paramedics.

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