Call for ambo probe

THE State Government has been asked to investigate circumstances which led to an elderly Churchill man having to take his seriously ill wife to hospital late last year when an ambulance was not available.

In late December, The Express reported 74-year-old Jim Dempsey, who has a disability, carried his wife from her bed to his vehicle and transported her to Latrobe Regional Hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

The Dempseys endured a 75-minute wait for an ambulance before being advised none were available.

Mr Dempsey said upon arrival at LRH his wife was “immediately taken into an emergency ward” and staff were “appalled” as two ambulances had been “parked at the hospital…for some time”.

At the time Ambulance Victoria Gippsland regional manager Mick Stephenson said “when someone calls us for help, we’d like to be able to send an ambulance immediately” but added “sometimes this just isn’t possible”.

He confirmed at the time, “all ambulances were on other jobs and the caller was asked if he was able to take the patient to hospital rather than wait for one to become available.”

After reading about the incident State Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for Health Wade Noonan wrote to the State Government expressing “deep concern” over Mr Dempsey’s predicament.

The MP said it was “particularly” troubling a breakdown in communication over the availability of an ambulance “could have contributed to a more serious outcome for Mrs Dempsey”.

“Given there was no ambulance available in the region for such a long period of time it also raises doubts as to whether resources are adequate in the area,” he said.

Mr Noonan asked State Health Minister David Davis to investigate Mr Dempsey’s circumstances “urgently”.

The letter follows concerns raised by Mr Noonan late last year over data showing ambulances were “ramped” outside some Victorian hospitals for more than 1000 hours per month.

Information obtained under Freedom of Information showed there had been a 207 per cent increase in the hours per month ambulances spent ‘ramped’ at LRH from 2009/10 to 2011/12 – jumping from an average of 52 hours per month to 161 hours per month.

At the time, LRH chief executive Peter Craighead questioned the data’s accuracy, citing examples where the hospital had performed above the state target.

Mr Noonan, however, maintained ambulance response times had “more than tripled (at LRH) since the Baillieu Government took office” who he said had cut $616 million from the health budget.

“I have spoken with local paramedics who tell me that ambulance queuing at the hospital very rarely occurred two years ago, but this has all changed in recent times.”

The public is set to hear more from paramedics in coming months, with Ambulance Employees Australia winning the right from Fair Work Commission to remove gag orders on its members, allowing them to speak publicly about their conditions.

AEA Victorian general secretary Steve McGhie told The Express union members would vote on nine protected industrial actions soon, following protracted enterprise bargaining negotiations with the State Government which had “gone backwards, if anything” despite 17 meetings being held since last August.

Mr McGhie said a further action would see paramedics refuse to fill in managerial positions.