Editorial: Enough with the begging, NZ needs to properly fund the ambulance service
EDITORIAL: The Government's plan to spend $59 million to eliminate single-person ambulance callouts is overdue. It also raises the much deeper issue of the funding of ambulance services in general.
Providing emergency help to seriously ill or injured people is one of the core duties of the state. And yet we persist with a strange mixture of government funding and charity.
The Wellington Free Ambulance Service relies heavily on fundraising and charitable giving. Why on earth is such an essential service centred around the begging bowl?
At present state funding accounts for about 70 per cent of the cost of the country's ambulance service. It is surprising that this anomalous situation has continued so long.
Perhaps it is because Wellington people, whose income is higher than average, have continued to give donations because they are used to doing so.
In the meantime, a sub-par service for many parts of the country will persist till 2020, when all ambulances will have two crew. The problem is particularly acute in rural areas.In the population centres, a crew of two is the norm. In the Wellington area, for example, most callouts are handled by double crews.
This is unfair to rural people. Outside the Wellington area, nearly 35,000 of the 393,000 call-outs last year were single-crewed, or about 10 per cent of the total.
It is clear that people have died as a result of single-crewing of ambulances. In 2016, 69-year-old Otago woman Marlene Dormer died as a lone ambulance driver tried to keep her alive. The officer had struggled to get her into the ambulance, but Dormer died during the drive to hospital.
Dean Kelliher, who is based in Matamata, says the system is loaded against rural people and is almost the opposite of what is needed. People in cities were often only about 10 minutes from a hospital, but in rural areas the drive might take an hour or even longer.
What's more, he says, the new funding arrangement will not guarantee that both ambulance crew are well-trained. The funding leaves unclear how many of the estimated new staff will be "emergency care assistants", who are less highly trained than paramedics.
A nasty industrial dispute at St John late last year and early this year showed the stress that ambulance staff were under. Many are working long hours and say they are dangerously tired at the end of the shift.
It seems clear that a substantial increase in funding is essential if properly trained double crews are to be provided, and even for that purpose the $59 million is likely to be inadequate.
But a still larger increase is needed to remove the reliance on charity as well as on the state for an emergency service which can make the difference between life and death for thousands of our fellow-citizens.
We take it for granted that police services, which protect the lives and property of all of us, are funded by the state. So why are ambulances any different?