Ambulance service says lack of stations risking lives

Sydney’s ambulance stations are lagging far behind the city’s growing and ageing population, and the government’s failure to have built more could cost lives, according to the Ambulance Service of NSW’s own confidential analysis.

Analysis commissioned by the Ambulance Service to convince senior government figures of the need for more funding in the 2011-12 budget reveals Sydney’s stations have been stretched beyond capacity for years.

”Significantly more people are likely to die or experience poorer quality of life … unless immediate action is taken,” the document says. ”It is a question of whether the NSW government and community are willing to let emergency response times climb towards 20 minutes and over.”

The document, compiled in the dying months of the last government, says $130 million is needed for 20 new stations for Sydney by 2020. Six were recommended to have already been built or started construction, with three more to begin construction by June.

Yet, three years since this pitch was made to the top levels of government, Fairfax Media understands no construction has started.

The Ambulance Service says it has received $22 million in funding from the O’Farrell government for the program, which it has used to buy land for five new stations. It would not comment on how far advanced plans were at each.

The document outlines the consequences of failing to build new stations in time to cater for Sydney’s growing and ageing population and congested streets.

”Adding further vehicles and staff to existing stations is not an option,” the report says.

It says that, without new stations, emergency response times in Sydney will begin to climb significantly from June and continue on a trajectory towards 20 minutes by the end of the decade.

If projections hold, 340 heart attack patients would be reached by an ambulance within the service’s benchmark of eight minutes next year, compared with more than 1000 in 2008.

In 2012-13, response times for the top-priority cases in Sydney reached 11 minutes, up from 10 minutes three years ago and in line with projections.

The time taken to reach 90 per cent of all ambulance patients in Sydney has shot up even further, rising by 2.3 minutes to 20.6 minutes.

”The change in response performance is primarily due to higher demand,” an Ambulance Service spokeswoman said.

Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, the number of patients treated by the service each year increased by 50,000 to 958,000, according to the Productivity Commission.

”Ambulance response time continues to go up and demand continues to go up,” opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald said. ”The Ambulance Service is not keeping up with what they said was vital four years ago.”

Fairfax Media recently exposed severe delays in Ambulance Service call centres, where callers were on hold for up to 20 minutes.

The Health Minister described these reports as ”concerning”. Mrs Skinner declined to say whether she had read the document, why its recommendation for new Sydney stations had been ignored and whether this would result in worse patient care.

She said the state government had increased funding for the Ambulance Service by 5 per cent.

”I’m confident our record funding for NSW Ambulance is ensuring it continues to deliver,” she said.

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