Heathcote death after 40-minute wait for ambulance

THE death of a Heathcote man who waited 40 minutes for an ambulance while having a heart attack has renewed calls from paramedics for more resources to cope with demand.

The man waited 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Bendigo after going into cardiac arrest in March this year.

Details of the incident, released by Bendigo paramedics, revealed the man’s partner phoned 000 and was told to begin CPR before an ambulance from Bendigo was directed to respond.

By the time the ambulance arrived, the man had died.  According to case details, the ambulance crew from Heathcote was unavailable at the time because they were on a fatigue break.

Ambulance Victoria Loddon Mallee regional manager Kevin Masci said yesterday management were looking into the incident.

Local paramedics told the Bendigo Advertiser it was just one recent case that highlighted the dangers of under-resourcing and miscommunication between the central dispatch system and ambulance crews.

Ambulance Employees Union secretary Steve McGhie said the “fundamental problem is that there’s not enough ambulance crews to cater for demand”. 

He said Heathcote was a single-officer branch where staff worked up to 16-hour shifts.

“We’re finding that Heathcote’s an area that’s being left uncovered more than ever,” he said.

“They’re getting called into Bendigo even more so now, which is leaving that area without coverage. It’s clearly a concern and, as we’ve seen, it’s putting people’s lives at risk.”

In another incident, paramedics said a 90-year-old woman, who had struck her head at a Bendigo nursing home, waited two hours and 45 minutes for an ambulance. Staff at the nursing home were instructed by the call command centre to leave the woman on the floor during that time, case details show.

According to one Bendigo paramedic, who asked not to be named, the directions were “ethically and morally wrong, and showed little or no compassion or regard for the patient or their family”.

Paramedics said a separate incident in North Bendigo also illustrated the dangers of delayed responses, with a Code 1 call for a potential stroke victim.

There were no available units in Bendigo so a Castlemaine crew was directed to respond, leaving Castlemaine uncovered for more than an hour. On arrival, the patient was found to have numb legs from excessive drug use. 

An industrial dispute between staff and Ambulance Victoria management has escalated in recent weeks. Paramedics say they have been increasingly overworked and under-valued, without adequate pay increases.

Mr Masci said the bargaining agreement was still being worked through.

He said that from April 1, Ambulance Victoria had added another two non-emergency resources to “assist with low acuity transfers, further assisting the availability of our emergency resources”.

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