Ambulance sent 700km off course
A choking toddler's emergency treatment was delayed because an ambulance was mistakenly sent to Southland rather than a childcare centre in Lower Hutt.
Central Emergency Communications in Wellington has investigated the incident and apologised to the 2-year-old boy's family for the "unacceptable" mistake and "any unnecessary distress" caused.
The error was made when a call for help was received from the Childhood Concepts Early Learning Centre in Birch St yesterday morning after the boy prised apart a container and drank a "bubble bath"-type liquid.
Staff watched as he choked, coughed and spat out the substance thinking an ambulance was on the way.
At the same time more than 700 kilometres away, Chantal McEwan, 31, was surprised to see paramedics with an oxygen tank show up at her home in Birchwood-Wairio Rd, Wairio.
Her family were told they were there to treat someone who was choking, before telling Mrs McEwan: "It [the emergency] was supposed to be in Wellington, not here. Sorry for the inconvenience."
About 20 minutes after receiving the plea for help, the call taker from Central Emergency Communications realised she had made a mistake and dispatched another ambulance, which arrived at the childcare centre about 10am. The Fire Service also responded to the incident.
Hutt City senior station officer Rob Sullivan said the young boy had been choking and coughing after drinking the liquid. He had also tried to spit out the substance.
The boy was taken to Hutt Hospital with "minor issues" and assessed at the emergency department, an ambulance spokesman said.
Central Emergency Communications is a joint venture between St John and Wellington Free Ambulance.
Acting communications centre manager Hank Bader said the error was immediately brought to the attention of senior staff.
The company had investigated the incident and apologised to the boy's family.
A review of "standard operating procedures" would be conducted to ensure a similar incident did not happen again.
"Any and all errors of this nature are unacceptable, but obviously mistakes do occur from time to time, although they are exceptionally rare, given the strict attention paid to this aspect of the service.
"This is an unfortunate set of circumstances and we regret the error and any unnecessary distress that was caused."
Staff at the Childhood Concepts Early Learning Centre yesterday declined to comment.
The incident follows a formal complaint last week by Naenae man Tama Lawson who was upset when a call taker told him an ambulance would not be sent to help his injured daughter unless he gave a street address for a Naenae shopping mall.
This week the service apologised and explained its dispatch system needed a street address to complete a call.
However, ''common locations'' could be included in the system and the mall had been added to help prevent similar incidents.
After yesterday's incident Mrs McEwan said she was concerned someone could have died as a result of the error.
''It's pretty disgusting if comms got that mixed up.
''The ambulance service has three call centres - Northern, Central and Southern. She suggested a move back to a more regional model might help fix the problem."
A National Health Board spokeswoman said last night the shift to the national call centres was a ''positive move''. It provided more consistency in monitoring, quality standards and training, she said.
July 2009: Drunk Mt Maunganui woman Tina Bernadette Peene, 50, died of hypothermia caused by exposure while she lay in a drain in bad weather. A coroner later said she might have been saved if an ambulance had reached her sooner. St John Ambulance acknowledged there was a misunderstanding about her exact location.
September 2007: Cain Longstaff, 19, was killed when he was hit by a car in New Plymouth. An ambulance intended for him was wrongly sent to Centennial Ave, Waitara, more than 20km in the other direction.
May 2007: Wellington man Jack Grabham witnessed a car crash in the city and was stunned when he dialled 111 for an ambulance to be told Courtenay Place was a district not a street and that the call taker could not find Kent Tce.
The central communications centre said the call was taken in Auckland, and the call taker had misspelt Courtenay.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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