Woman in agony denied ambulance

TOM HUNT AND HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 05:00 31/03/2014
karen archer
ANGUISHED CALL: Karen Archer lay in agony with a dislocated kneecap after repeated calls for an ambulance.

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When his wife collapsed in agony from a dislocated kneecap, a Wellington man was forced to call 111 four times - including to police - before an ambulance finally arrived.

Karen Archer's kneecap dislocated in her Kelson home, days after the 54-year-old was hit by a car, leaving the knee swollen.

But when her husband Graham Archer called for help, he was referred to the Healthline medical advice service and they ended up waiting more than an hour for an ambulance.

Wellington Free Ambulance yesterday apologised for the way she had to wait in agony for so long before an ambulance got to her Kelson home, acknowledging that the operator followed procedure but "whilst Karen's injury was not immediately life threatening, it actually did require an ambulance response".

Karen Archer, a Healthcare NZ careworker who works with elderly people, was run over by her own car nearly two weeks ago when she went to fetch a client's newspaper. The 54-year-old was pinned under the car and dragged to the street, leaving her with cuts, bruises and a swollen left knee.

Four days later her kneecap dislocated as she got out of bed and she collapsed in pain.

"Her patella was a big bulge under the skin sticking out the side of her knee instead of the front where it should have been. She could not move," Graham Archer said.

But the 111 call centre operator refused to send an ambulance, insisting she had to follow procedure.

"Karen was crying . . . begging for an ambulance but she ignored her and even told me off for putting her on the phone."

He hung up and tried again but was put though to the same operator, who said she would transfer the call to a district nurse.

The nurse agreed to send an ambulance but after an "eternity" on hold he hung up and again called 111 - but this time asked for police.

"The woman at the police call centre was wonderful. She agreed to tell the ambulance people to send us one and said if the delay is too long call back."

After another 20 minutes he heard sirens and a Wellington Free Ambulance finally arrived.

The ambulance crew were "marvellous" and, after administering pain relief, got her patella back in place then gave her morphine for the slow drive to hospital.

One of the ambulance staff was "appalled" by the way his wife had been treated by the call centre, Graham Archer said. He estimated the wait for an ambulance was more than an hour.

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"I detest that woman who answered our call and ignored our pleas for help and I detest whoever set this procedure in place."

Wellington Free Ambulance spokesman Daniel Paul apologised to the Archers, saying there was no question an ambulance should have been sent.

But they also wanted to explain why the call was handled as it was.

A triage system was used to ensure life-threatening incidents were dealt with first and the knee injury was referred to Healthline as it was judged not to be immediately life threatening.

"This process ensures frontline ambulances are available for the increasing number of urgent and emergency cases with which we deal. All emergency calls requesting an ambulance in New Zealand are triaged in this way."

An ambulance was sent immediately when Healthline called Wellington Free Ambulance, he said.

The service tried to call the Archers to say it was on its way, but the phone was engaged.

- The Dominion Post

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