Residents of Ōmārama and St John disagree on urgent medical care


Residents of Ōmārama fear they will not receive timely medical care and they want change.

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The nearest ambulance is 30 kilometers away in Twizel, but the town has a group of volunteers trained for first responders and an agreement with St John that it would be dispatched to relevant medical calls.

But residents say first responders often aren’t called when they should be, and it prompted a community meeting to make their voices heard.

Bruce Dyson, owner of the Boots and Jandals Hotel, served with the Ōmārama Volunteer Fire Department First Response Unit for over a decade.

Patients were forced to wait for care if the unit was not dispatched, he said.

“Twizel is probably a good 25-30 minutes away, then Kurow could be up to 40 minutes away, and if those two aren’t available, you’re talking Ōamaru or Waimate who’s a good quarter past an hour away. and twenty.

“There were a few cases where people had to wait that long.”

The Fire and Emergency First Response Unit is dispatched to relevant medical events by St John as part of an enhanced response trial which began in 2017.

This trial means they can be called upon to attend more medical emergencies than most other first responder squads.

The Boots and Jandals Hotel has had three medical calls in the last 10 months when the local first aid unit was not called to help.

One such time a bar manager waited over an hour for an ambulance after someone fell outside a nearby hotel.

Dyson said the First Response Unit – which is trained by St John – could get there much faster.

“In town you talk three to five minutes, and outside – rural areas – it depends on how far they have to go.

“So it’s reassuring for people who might be on the line or (family in distress), it’s reassuring for them and it’s reassuring for the patient.”

They just wanted to serve their community and support St John, he said.

Craig Dawson, trustee of the Ōmārama First Response Trust, said the first response unit was set up so they could give patients the right support while they waited for an ambulance.

Timely medical care and the ability to triage someone in person rather than over the phone could make a big difference, he said.

“What we’ve discovered recently is that we’re just not called to these calls, which can be potentially dangerous.

“I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’ve had to ring the bell because you’re not feeling well or you’ve had an accident. But most people underestimate it, they don’t want to be a nuisance, And therein lies the problem.”

The community, especially the elderly, needed reassurance that they could get timely medical assistance, he said.

“I think if you live in a community and you have people who are willing, highly trained and have good equipment, why not use them?

“It costs St John nothing to attend. We don’t send them an invoice or anything like that. We just go out and do the work.”

He wanted a new memorandum of understanding between St John and Fire and Emergency which meant that the first response unit was called in for all medical events and accidents.

Otago Fire and Emergency District Manager Phil Marsh said the issue was on his radar.

It was up to St John to assess each medical call and decide whether to send the first response unit, he said.

“We don’t want to give the illusion of things we’re not supposed to do.

“We are aligning with the Memorandum of Understanding and the Enhanced Trial, and that is where we need to stick.

“We can’t just go to anything unannounced or uninvited. We have to work under that clinical governance.”

Local firefighters received 93 calls in the 12 months to July 31, 41 were medical.

The current MOU contains guidelines that dictate when the unit can be dispatched.

“For all incidents classified as purple or red – so it’s cardiac or respiratory arrest or major serious life-threatening incidents where we can get there before an ambulance, and for orange or orange incidents 1 where first responder skills can make a positive difference to patient outcomes.”

Rural St John Otago operations manager David Milne said nothing had changed to the partnership with Fire and Emergency.

“St John is aware of the concerns of the Ōmārama community but again would like to reassure them that the Fenz First Response Brigade is and will continue to be dispatched by St John Ambulance for all relevant medical incidents,” Milne said. .

He said the past 12 months of incident data showed no overall upward or downward trend for the Ōmārama community, with the brigade dispatched to four calls per month.

Three of these corresponded to the typical first response unit and approximately one per month fell under the enhanced trial criteria.

“It should also be noted that there are certain incidents for which we will not actively request any Fenz response from Ōmārama.

“For example, when the patient requests that the brigade not be activated (because patients are entitled to do so under the HDC code of rights) and there is a medical professional on the scene and that ‘he asks that the brigade not be activated because there is enough skill already on stage.

St John continually reviewed the way they worked together to ensure resources were allocated appropriately. but noted that the ambulance service was experiencing extremely high demand across the country, he said.

The community meeting will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Ōmārama Memorial Hall with St John and Fire and Emergency both confirming their attendance.


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