No rush to contact dead man’s family after 10 hour ambulance wait

SA Health has not yet contacted the family of a man who died nine days ago after waiting hours for an ambulance, as the Opposition calls on the Health Minister to resign over the tragedy and ramping crisis.

Jan 05, 2024, updated Jan 05, 2024
Ambulance Employees Association paramedics wrote protest messages on ambulances during a high-profile campaign against the Marshall Government during Labor's 2022 state election campaign.

Ambulance Employees Association paramedics wrote protest messages on ambulances during a high-profile campaign against the Marshall Government during Labor's 2022 state election campaign.

The Ambulance Employees Association yesterday revealed that a 54-year-old Hectorville man died more than 10 hours after a triple-zero call on December 27 to report abdominal pain and vomiting.

Despite being assessed as requiring an ambulance response within 60 minutes, the man waited for hours before his condition deteriorated. Only then was an ambulance sent, but the man died. SA Health and the SA Ambulance Service are now reviewing the case.

The paramedics’ union – which played a major campaigning role against the former Marshall Liberal Government as part of Labor’s key 2022 state election pledge to “fix ramping” – said the tragedy was the result of no ambulances being available due to ramping.

Neither Premier Peter Malinauskas or Health Minister Chris Picton who is on paternity leave were available yesterday to respond to news of the man’s death.

However, the Premier will hold a media conference this afternoon.

This morning, SA Health CEO Robyn Lawrence said the dead man’s family had not yet been contacted about the events of December 27.

“At this stage we haven’t but we will be reaching out to the family as soon as we’ve got some concrete information about the details in this scenario,” Lawrence told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“You can understand that talking to a family when we don’t have that may cause further distress. And as soon as we have clarity around the full scenario that occurred with this gentleman we’ll be in contact with the family.”

Asked when that might occur, Lawrence said: “We’ll be doing that as quickly as we can. Obviously, there’s information to be gained from a couple of different locations. And as soon as we’ve done that, we’ll be in touch with the family.”

The identity of the man who tragically died on December 27 waiting for an ambulance has been confirmed. #9News


— 9News Adelaide (@9NewsAdel) January 4, 2024

Asked by InDaily at a press conference on Thursday if the SA Ambulance Service would have revealed the man’s death had the paramedics’ union not done so, CEO Rob Elliott said: “I would have done the internal review regardless, then I would have properly disclosed into the Department of Health and Wellbeing safety and quality unit.”

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“So I had no plans to externally publicise this case at this stage.”

Asked by InDaily whether the public should now be confident in calling an ambulance instead of a taxi to go to hospital, Elliott said: “I think people should get some health professional advice and the best way to do that is actually ring triple zero and talk to one of our call takers.”

“There are very very limited and restricted circumstances where some of our healthcare professional paramedics who do specialist training in telephone triage may advise that an alternate form of transport might be the most appropriate way to move to hospital,” he said.

“So I would prefer people had confidence in SA Ambulance, ring triple zero, have that conversation and get really good advice from an expert clinician about other alternate options that might be available where an ambulance isn’t.”

Asked if triple zero call takers should have advised the man to call a taxi, Elliott said: “I won’t comment on the specifics of this case as it’s under review and there’s an element of confidentiality for the patient.”

Asked if the man would still be alive if a taxi or Uber had been called, Elliott said: “That’s not something I can comment on.”

AEA industrial officer Josh Karpowicz said today that despite recent improvements to ambulance response times, “we’re starting to see that plateau and start going down again because ramping is just getting worse”.

Opposition Leader David Speirs said today that the state health system was in an “unprecedented crisis” and the Premier needed to act.

“I think he needs to apologise to the family of this man who’s lost his life and he needs to explain to South Australians what his strategy is to solve ramping and make sure that our hospital system is functional once more,” he said.

“And he needs to get rid of Chris Picton. It’s a big threshold for an Opposition leader and shadow minister to call for the sacking of a minister – we don’t do that day in and day out – but in this case… we’re saying it’s time to move Chris Picton on.”

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