4 May 2020

Invercargill man denied ambulance despite being incapacitated

5:04 pm on 4 May 2020

A Southlander says he is upset St John's communications staff refused to send an ambulance to his father, who had collapsed and was unable to move due to pain.

St John's new purpose-built rural ambulance, which it says is more 'nimble'.

Photo: St John / Supplied

Derek Dudley said his 69-year-old father fell at his Invercargill home on Friday, resulting in black eyes and needing stitches.

He awoke yesterday in intense pain and collapsed on his bed, with his back going into muscle spasms, Dudley said.

His mother called Dudley and he went around to their home.

She attempted to call for an ambulance but was refused.

"They said they weren't going to come, basically, and they would get a nurse or paramedic to follow up," Dudley said.

After seeing his father's condition and drawing on his experience as a former firefighter for nine years, he also contacted St John.

"He could not bear anybody shifting him, he couldn't bear anyone touching his legs, there was just no way [we could take him to hospital ourselves].

"I could make a pretty good informed decision, based on the situations I'd seen, on what needs to happen, so I called 111 back."

Dudley said he could understand not sending an ambulance if one was unavailable or crews were busy, but he had learnt an ambulance was at the station, fully-crewed.

"I tried to tell them 'I know there's an ambulance sitting there, why aren't you dispatching it?' and they said 'No, a nurse will call you and make an assessment'.

"I said to them: 'We cannot shift this guy, he's got tingling in his feet.'"

Without providing any reasoning other than the need to follow protocol, communications staff still refused to send the ambulance, Dudley said.

Their manner was dismissive, he said.

He contacted Southland Hospital's shift manager to let the hospital know the situation.

The hospital, in turn, contacted St John and insisted on an ambulance being sent, Dudley said.

"The ambulance staff were very apologetic, and same with the hospital staff ... both very, very apologetic and very professional," he said.

He was upset with the manner of the communications centre.

"I've done a lot of time with the fire service, with emergency service, it's not like I don't know what I'm talking about. When someone needs emergency care they need emergency care.

"My parents have paid their taxes all their lives and the one time they need help ... the system lets them down and treats them like an inconvenience. How many people is this happening to?"

His father was admitted to hospital, where they found part of a bone spur, formed due to arthritis, had broken off his lower back from the fall.

"I understand the comms centre is a stressful place, but they're making calls on people's safety over a phone. They have no idea what is actually happening, people downplay things all the time."

Dudley shared his experience on social media and others had been in touch relaying similar concerns.

He hoped St John would review the incident and rethink training and protocols to make sure no one else had a similar experience.

St John Southern territory manager Robin Eustace confirmed Dudley had contacted St John via 111 requesting an ambulance for his father yesterday morning.

"An ambulance was dispatched and transported the patient ... in a moderate condition," Eustace said.

"St John takes patient safety and welfare very seriously.

"We have contacted the family directly and are currently looking into their concerns and reviewing the handling of the 111 call."

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