NSW ambulance in Coffs Harbour.
NSW ambulance in Coffs Harbour. Trevor Veale/Coffs Coast Advocat

Ambulance response times in drastic melt down

PEOPLE requiring urgent medical attention are waiting almost an hour for ambulances, highlighting the desperate need for more paramedics on the Northern Rivers.

In one case an assault victim with abnormal breathing waited 54 minutes for an ambulance in the Lismore area to be assigned because none were available.

It only took three minutes for the ambulance to arrive once it had been tasked to the patient.

Another person who was unconscious waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to be assigned.

Once an ambulance became available, the patient had to wait another 25 minutes for it to arrive.

Wait for urgent cases

These are just two examples of patients in the Lismore response area, categorised as urgent "lights and sirens" cases, who had to wait 12 to 54 minutes for an ambulance to be assigned due to a lack of availability.

The examples leaked to The Northern Star by the Health Services Union give some insight into the seriousness of delayed ambulance response times on the Northern Rivers.

But the full extent of the problem is unknown because, unlike other states, the data for local and regional ambulance response times in New South Wales is closely guarded.

Information unavailable

When asked for local response times for stations in the Northern Zone, which covers Lismore,

Ballina, Byron, Casino, Tweed Heads and Kyogle, a Ambulance Service of NSW spokeswoman said: "Our data does not capture response times for individual ambulance stations."

When asked about providing regional average response times, she said this information was not readily available and would have to be obtained through a freedom of information application.

In contrast, Ambulance Victoria releases regular reports providing a breakdown of average response times in local government areas across the state.

The Queensland ambulance service also releases regional response times.

Worst in the country

NSW has been identified as the worst in the country, behind Tasmania, for the time it takes ambulances to respond to life-threatening situations.

The recently-released Productivity Commission report also showed the NSW ambulance service receives less state government funding per capita than other public ambulance services in Australia.

The number of NSW paramedics has also dropped to its lowest level in more than five years.

Health Services Union state secretary Gerard Haynes said the lack of transparency in response times across the state was about avoiding accountability for a severe lack of resourcing.

"Ultimately they'll be exposed for what it is - it is under-resourced - but they don't want to actually go and put the investment in," he said.

"We're saying across NSW at least 800 paramedics need to be put in.

"You just can't keep burning paramedics out when the answer is there needs to be the appropriate amount of resources on the ground."

Highly regarded

Mr Haynes said NSW paramedics were some of the most highly regarded and sought after in the world, but were struggling to cope with the lack of resources.

"The injury rate is going up, the response time is getting worse," he said.

When asked what's being done to address the state's low response time performance, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said a new chief executive had been appointed to the NSW ambulance service who would be asked "when he's settled in" to give advice on whether the service needs extra funding or staffing.

"We've already committed extra paramedics and it will be a matter of whether that's sufficient or we need to go even further," she said.

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