Monday, January 02, 2006

Another Ambulance disgrace due to bureaucratic infighting

Patients don't matter in a bureaucratic fight

Queensland Ambulance ignored a woman's plea to save her husband - responding only when she telephoned a second time. Mary McGregor called Triple-0 after husband Ken seriously gashed his arm with an angle grinder at their Kilkivan property, about 50km west of Gympie. But the first call for help fell on deaf ears. After an agonising 75-minute wait Mrs McGregor again phoned Triple-0 as her husband Ken, 68, bled profusely. An ambulance crew finally arrived about an hour later.

Mrs McGregor said she suspected the delay was due to "call centre error or mismanagement" and she demanded an explanation from Emergency Services. In an exclusive report last month, The Sunday Mail revealed a stoush [fight] between ambulance call centre operators left critically ill patients to die, according to paramedics. The battle between call centres in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast over who should take emergency calls had led to QAS staff being disciplined and fined after an investigation.

Mrs McGregor said she believed her husband was almost a fatal victim of the conflict. The officers who responded told her they had received the emergency call an hour beforehand and had no knowledge of the earlier call to Triple-0. "I want to know what happened to the first call . . . there must be a record of it," Mrs McGregor said. "I want some answers from the Premier and the Minister."

The accident happened about 10am on December 10. The closest ambulance station was at Gympie and on a previous occasion a crew had taken 45 minutes to make the trip. "They were advised my husband was bleeding profusely from a gash in his arm, that he was currently on blood thinning medication for a heart condition, and that he was a paraplegic, so could not be moved without assistance," she said. "When an ambulance failed to arrive, Triple-0 was called a second time between 11am and 11.15am . . . the ambulance arrived some time after 12 noon. "The attending officers were efficient and provided a high-quality service."

Mr McGregor was taken to Gympie Hospital with a suspected severed artery, and later transferred to Royal Brisbane Hospital for emergency surgery. "I would describe a severed artery - especially for a person on blood-thinning medication - as a life-threatening injury," she said. "Thankfully, in this instance, the delay was not fatal." Mrs McGregor wanted to know what mechanisms were in place to monitor Triple-0 call centres and how often delays occurred because of "errors or mismanagement". "What processes are followed to rectify issues identified by either the monitoring system, the public or staff?"

Premier Peter Beattie and Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell said the matter had been passed on to Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins for a response. Mr Higgins said he was very concerned and ordered an urgent investigation. In a letter to Mrs McGregor, he blamed the delay on a fault in the computer-aided dispatch system, with her initial call not being received and acted on by the appropriate dispatcher. The fault was not discovered until her second call. "The communications officer has been counselled . . . to reinforce the need to ensure that all operational procedures are adhered to," Mr Higgins said. "I regret the delay and any distress caused you and your husband."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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