NSW residents question safety of ambulance services

Date: Dec 06, 2013

Medical negligence can come in many forms, and it appears many New South Wales residents are now wondering if these cases can arise from human errors on the part of ambulance operators.

The debate started when an 18-month-old boy died after an ambulance did not reach him in time, which the emergency crews admitted was because of human error.

According to ABC, the toddler was being treated for shortness of breath at a medical centre in Sydney when officials made a non-emergency call for the child to be picked up by an ambulance and taken to the hospital at 9:45 in the morning.

However, the operator reportedly filed that the ambulance was needed at 19:45 instead. Because the emergency crews did not arrive within 30 minutes as was asked of them, the child died about an hour after the call was made.

Ray Creen, NSW Ambulance Service chief executive, apologised on behalf of the organisation, and said changes would follow.

"It has to be double checked by another operator, and confirming the call pick up time with the caller," he explained.

He added that there will be more investigations – from the state as well as independent bodies – to determine how ambulance operators can avoid such an accident again.

A larger problem of medical negligence in ambulance care

The tragic event brought to light a number of issues that Sydney residents have with ambulance care.

One of the biggest problems with the city's poor response time is the sheer demand for ambulance services. Benjamin Gilmour, author of "Paramedico – Around the World by Ambulance", wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the city's ambulance services are strained because of overwhelming demand.

Fixing the problem will require a two-fold solution. It will mean implementing new programs that eliminate the chance of human error, but Mr Gilmour argues the public can also do its part. This means only calling for emergency services when it is, in fact, an emergency.

As for the city though, Mr Creen said early investigations into the toddler's death have already led to new solutions to the problem.

It's made recommendations that I've accepted so far as investigating further technology fixes and changing the call-taking questions we ask of doctors for non-emergencies," he said.

"So we'll be implementing them as soon as we can."

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