Another patient death deepens ambulance delay crisis

EXCLUSIVE: After revealing a great-grandfather died from inhaling vomit after waiting hours for an ambulance, InDaily has learned an aged care resident deteriorated and died after going into cardiac arrest as staff repeatedly called for help and performed CPR during a 90-minute wait for paramedics to arrive.

Oct 21, 2021, updated Oct 21, 2021
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The woman, an aged care resident in her 80s, died last weekend while waiting far longer than the recommended time for an ambulance, despite frantic emergency calls for help.

An internal investigation is now underway and it’s understood the death has been referred to the Coroner.

The case has come to light after InDaily yesterday revealed the Coroner would investigate the death of 89-year-old Bernard “Brian” Skeffington, who died in hospital on September 30 from lung complications after breathing in vomit, following a wait of several hours for an ambulance.

His son, Martin Skeffington – an experienced nurse – believes he would still be alive if help didn’t take so long to arrive.

In the latest case, the paramedics’ union said staff at a Grange nursing home called triple zero at 12.12am on Sunday for a female resident in her 80s with shortness of breath and nausea.

The case was triaged as “priority two” meaning the wait should have been no more than 16 minutes.

But the union said an ambulance and intensive care paramedic didn’t get to the nursing home until 1.47am – more than an hour and a half after the call for help.

Ambulance Employees Association industrial officer Josh Karpowicz said after the initial triple zero call, nursing home staff “repeatedly” called back to report the woman was deteriorating.

He said that just prior to the ambulance arriving, the patient went into cardiac arrest and nursing home staff began performing CPR.

Paramedics arrived and took over CPR but the woman died at the scene.

“It is incredibly frustrating and saddening to hear of yet another patient who has passed away while waiting for an ambulance in their time of need,” Karpowicz told InDaily.

“The AEA extends their sincere sympathies to the patient’s family – they deserved so much more.”

Karpowicz said despite the first call for help at 12.12am, the woman’s case “went uncovered with no ambulances available to send” until after 1.30am.

He said that during a subsequent conversation with emergency call centre operators, nursing home staff reported the woman had become “less responsive” and that they had to start CPR, just before the ambulance arrived.

“Our paramedics attempted to resuscitate this patient but sadly they passed away,” he said.

“Patients are waiting hours for an ambulance and there are now multiple cases being investigated by the coroner that involve a delayed ambulance response.”

A spokesperson for the SA Ambulance Service told InDaily: “SAAS is unable to comment with an internal investigation into the matter underway. We understand the case has also been referred to the Coroner, and SAAS will comply with any inquiry.”

The other recent case referred to the Coroner is the death of 89-year-old Bernard “Brian” Skeffington, who died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on September 30, after five days in intensive care following a lengthy wait for an ambulance at his North Plympton aged care unit.

His son, Martin Skeffington, said he died of aspiration pneumonia after breathing in vomit on the way to hospital, hours after his wife first called an ambulance.

His family says he waited about five hours but the SA Ambulance Service says the wait was less than four hours.

SA Ambulance Service pager records seen by InDaily show that an ambulance was dispatched to his independent living unit three times over the course of the day, but on each of those occasions was diverted to another more urgent job.

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It was the fourth ambulance dispatched that eventually arrived.

Martin Skeffington told InDaily he believes ambulance ramping and the delay in getting his father to hospital “absolutely” caused his death.

“If ambulances were able to get to people quicker it would have been a different outcome,” he said.

“I just don’t want it to happen to anybody else”.

The State Government earlier this year announced it would hire an extra 74 paramedics to ease pressure on the struggling system but the union says it falls well short of what’s needed.

The union is now calling for 370 extra ambulance staff, including paramedics, ambulance officers and triple zero call-takers.

It wants 11 additional ambulance crews for metropolitan Adelaide and 17 crews for regional South Australia.

“This is what is needed to resolve the chronic resource shortages facing our state and will ensure that events like these do not occur in the future,” Karpowicz said.

“We are outlining measures which will alleviate ramping, change the ambulance service funding model and prepare our state’s ambulance service to meet the needs of COVID after our borders open.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas told InDaily the State Government had already significantly increased the number of ambulance staff and was prepared to employ “a modest number” more on full settlement of the enterprise agreement.

“It certainly wouldn’t be 370 more though,” he said.

Lucas said that was far more than the union had previously called for.

He said by June next year, there would be 258 more ambulance staff than there were four years ago.

SA Health chief executive Dr Chris McGowan was asked about the deaths at a parliamentary committee this afternoon and whether the system was in “crisis”.

He declined to comment on the cases specifically but said: “We are cognisant that pressure on our hospital system across the board is very difficult at the moment. It’s difficult across Australia.”

“We have a global pandemic going on and that means hospitals are running differently than they have before,” he said.

“We are responding as every state in Australia is attempting to respond to this. It’s very complicated. Our approach is not just to throw more beds and more capacity at the system. We’ve got to make the system flow better. We’re doing everything we can to do that.”

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