WA Ambulance crisis linked to deaths as report recommends sweeping changes

A parliamentary inquiry has recommended that St John Ambulance be given up to five years to improve its services before the Western Australian government relinquishes the contract or takes control.

WA Ambulance crisis linked to deaths as report recommends sweeping changes

It comes amid staff shortages caused by Covid-19, with the state government announcing on Wednesday that senior representatives from WA’s health department and police would be stationed at St John Ambulance headquarters to assist the service and firefighters when needed.

The McGowan government was forced to intervene after the death of grandmother Georgina Wild, who suffered a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance for two hours. It has since been revealed that an older man has also died in similar circumstances.

In its 219-page report submitted to parliament on Thursday, the Public Administration Committee finds St John Ambulance failed to meet target response times in 2020-21.

A key recommendation was whether answering and sending triple-zero calls should be transferred to WA Health.

Camera IconSt John Ambulance is under pressure from Covid-19, causing staff shortages. Credit: News Corp Australia

The Committee also found that workplace culture was an issue and recommended that St John Ambulance thoroughly re-evaluate its structure and processes.

The Committee also found that the ambulance and non-emergency services were not deployed separately as intended.

“Emergency equipment is currently used to provide non-emergency patient transfer services outside of patient transfer service hours (1:00-6:00). This reduces emergency capacity,” the report said.

The commission made 74 findings and 48 recommendations, but it is up to the state government to determine whether they should be adopted.

St John Ambulance chief Michelle Fyfe said the organization had only received the report at the same time as the public and was still dealing with it.

“This will not distract us from our core business as, at this point as an organization, we are committed to providing our essential service to assist Western Australians during the spread of Covid-19 in the community,” said Ms. Fyfe.

Camera IconWA Premier Mark McGowan sprang into action after it was reported that an older woman died of a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance. NCA NewsWire/James Gourley Credit: News Corp Australia

“This is where we are needed and where we stay most focused.

“I’ve said this many times over the past few weeks – our team continues to give its best in some very challenging conditions, and I stand behind them.”

In a statement before the report was issued, the United Workers Union said it had warned that St John Ambulance had been ill-prepared since January to deal with the Omicron outbreak.

The union’s national ambulance coordinator, Fiona Scalon, said the situation was “now at a breaking point”.

“A complete overhaul of the service is desperately needed. St John has dropped the ball and is doing the WA community a disservice,” she said.

“The ambulance service is an essential government service and should be run as an essential one, not one controlled by private interests and the associated low levels of transparency and accountability.”

Lori J. Kile
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