Despite Queensland government assurances -- but that's government-run medical services for you
A boy who fell through an aquarium almost bled to death because an ambulance was diverted to treat a man whose throat became sore after eating a hamburger, paramedics claim. The boy, 12, from Mooloolaba, had to wait 30 minutes before another ambulance arrived to take him to Nambour Hospital.
The mix-up has been blamed on a faulty computer system and lack of experienced staff at a Queensland Ambulance Service communications centre on the Sunshine Coast. "The QAS management have assured the public that all the problems have been rectified, yet situations like this continue on a daily basis," a senior ambulance source said. "The computer system does not work and the operators don't have any clinical knowledge, so there is a huge risk that people could die unnecessarily."
But a QAS spokesman yesterday said the boy did not have life-threatening injuries and his case was given a Code Two (non-urgent) priority. The ambulance arrived after 27 minutes. "This matter was correctly coded and dispatched accordingly, the spokesman said. "From all the facts available, it was a straightforward case."
The source said an ambulance was dispatched to the boy after he crashed through the aquarium at his home a fortnight ago. But the paramedic was diverted to another "higher priority" case. "The second patient had been sick with a sore throat for a week and had aggravated it by eating a Big Mac," the source said. "Once the paramedic told the guy to gargle his medication, as prescribed by his doctor, she was again dispatched to the boy. "In her words they were `the most horrific injuries that I had seen that hadn't come out of a car accident - there was over half a litre of blood on the floor, the thigh bone was visible, as were tendons and a lot of tissue'."
The source said call centre workers were inadequately trained and crews frequently responded to "Code One" emergency calls that were little more than patient transfers to hospital. "Ring up with a runny nose or be involved in a minor nose-to-tail and you will get an ambulance Code One. But ring up after falling through an aquarium, or collapse with a stroke on the footpath, and your ambulance will probably take half an hour or more to get there," the source said.
The Sunday Mail reported in January how a Kilkivan man almost died when the ambulance service ignored his wife's initial call for help after a machine accident. Paramedics were dispatched only after she called a second time, an hour later. Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins blamed that delay on a fault with the dispatch system. A communications officer was counselled over the incident, but frontline staff complained that many Triple-0 calls went unanswered.
The article above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 18, 2006
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