‘Not good enough’: Premier responds to fatal 10 hour ambulance wait

Premier Peter Malinauskas says the family of an Adelaide man who died waiting 10 hours for an ambulance due to ramping has a right to be angry, but dismissed calls to sack the Health Minister as “playing politics”.

Jan 05, 2024, updated Jan 05, 2024
Premier Peter Malinauskas at Friday's press conference. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Premier Peter Malinauskas at Friday's press conference. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily.

Malinauskas held a media conference this afternoon to respond to the death of a 54-year-old Hectorville man who died waiting more than 10 hours for an ambulance after making a triple-zero call on December 27 to report abdominal pain and vomiting.

Identified only as “Eddie”, the man lived in a disability care facility and was assessed as requiring an ambulance response within 60 minutes.

After his condition deteriorated following a lengthy wait, an ambulance was finally sent as a priority one and arrived within four minutes, but the man died.

The Ambulance Employees Association yesterday revealed the incident had occurred on December 27, and blamed it on ambulances and patients being ramped outside crowded emergency departments.

Asked at a press conference on Friday afternoon if the man’s family had a right to feel angry, the Premier said: “I think anytime we see an instance like this, yes, it sure does.”

“And that’s what motivates our positions. If you look at the state budget, which is where the rubber hits the road in terms of resources, the volume of more dollars that we invested over and above what any previous government has put into health is astronomical.

“That’s why we choose to make it a priority. We choose to say the status quo is not good enough and we’ve got to improve it – and that’s exactly what we’re delivering as a government in terms of all the additional resources.”

Asked if it was fair for the man to wait more than 10 hours for an ambulance, Malinauskas said: “No, absolutely not, which is exactly why we’re making those changes.”

SA Health CEO Robyn Lawrence said this morning that health authorities were yet to contact the deceased man’s family despite the incident happening more than nine days ago.

Malinauskas said there have been some difficulties getting in touch with the man’s next of kin.

Asked if he would personally be visiting the family, he said: “Often I do try to do that in these types of circumstances, and that’s why we’re trying to get those details around the next of kin.

“There has been a bit of difficulty doing that, so we’re going through the appropriate channels with them because the patient was in a caring facility.

“It has been a little difficult thus far… normally by now we would have those details. It’s just been hard to ascertain.”

The Malinauskas Government was elected in March 2022 on a key pledge to “fix the ramping crisis”, with the paramedics’ union playing a key role in a high-profile campaign against the Marshall Liberal government.

Where's the Premier? Despite his promise to fix ramping, it's worse than ever and he's MIA. Nice that he was able to go for a beachside jog this morning though instead of fronting up to media.

— SA Liberal Media (@SALibMedia) January 4, 2024

However, the Ambulance Employees Association said today that “ramping is just getting worse”.

In November, ramping figures were the worst in the state’s history at 4285 hours, equivalent to 178 days. SA Health said yesterday that December’s ramping figures of 3,595 hours – equivalent to 149 days – was a 16 per cent improvement.

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Opposition leader David Speirs this morning said the health system was in the grip of an “unprecedented crisis” and called for the Premier to sack Health Minister Chris Picton, claiming the health system “has fallen apart under his watch”.

“We know that we saw a government elected in March 2022 that was very very clear about its primary objective – that was a primary objective to put all of its efforts, all of its focus into fixing the healthcare system and particularly getting on top of ramping,” Speirs said.

“We’ve seen our hospital system really fall off a cliff in terms of its capacity to support the most vulnerable South Australians.”

Malinauskas dismissed Opposition calls to sack Picton, who is currently on paternity leave.

“This is not the first time they’ve made these calls,” the Premier said.

“I do feel a little bit for the Health Minister – he’s got a newborn who he’s taking home today and the Opposition’s decided to come out and call for his resignation.

“That’s their prerogative – they can play politics… we’ve just got to focus on getting these additional resources online.”

The Premier said there would be 150 additional hospital beds coming online in 2024, on top of 500 additional clinicians hired in 2023.

He also said there was a “dramatic improvement” in ambulance response times last year.

“Our task is to continue to improve throughout the course of 2024 so as to ensure we don’t see tragedies unfold like the one that occurred in the last couple of days,” he said.

Ambulance response data

The percentage of priority one callouts – requiring an ambulance within eight minutes – that were met on time improved over the course of 2023, a fact the government highlighted today. Graph: SA Health

Ambulance response times

The percentage of priority two callouts – requiring an ambulance within 16 minutes – that were met also improved last year. Graph: SA Health

Asked if he was concerned that patient deaths and continued ramping could hurt Labor at the 2026 election, the Premier said: “That’s not the concern, the concern is actually improving the system.

“And what I find frustrating is we’ll have six months of improved data and it appears you’re getting somewhere and then all of a sudden it’ll be one step back.

“That’s when it gets a little frustrating, but that’s when you’ve got to redouble your efforts.”

He later added: “The politics seems to be the preoccupation of others, we’re just focused on the policy that will make a difference to keep people safe.”

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