Ambulance error spurs new probe

BY ESTHER TAUNTON
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2010
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ANDY JACKSON/Taranaki Daily News
LONG WAIT: Tahora couple Robert and Annie Fletcher waited five hours for an ambulance after the driver overshot their Ohura Rd property by 60km.

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A second ambulance botch-up in less than two years has raised fresh concerns about emergency service response times in the Taranaki back country.

An investigation has been launched after a woman was forced to wait five hours in agonising pain before an ambulance arrived at her Tahora property on Saturday.

Robert and Annie Fletcher live on the same stretch of road where motorcyclist Brett Collings died after emergency services took 90 minutes to locate the scene of a crash near Ohura on State Highway 43 in November 2008.

An investigation into that incident found a litany of errors by ambulance dispatchers contributed to Mr Collings' death and a report made 14 recommendations for improving services.

However, the Fletchers are alarmed at the repeated failure of emergency services to locate rural addresses.

In the latest incident, Mr Fletcher called an ambulance after his wife suffered painful back spasms on Saturday night.

He was told at 9.10pm an ambulance would be dispatched to arrive in 90 minutes.

The spasms had left Mrs Fletcher "basically paralysed" and screaming in agony, prompting a request for a helicopter to be sent to their property, 72km northeast of Stratford.

"They wouldn't send one because I wasn't dying," she said yesterday.

"If it was a heart problem, you'd be in real trouble."

But almost three hours after first calling 111, Mr Fletcher received a call from ambulance communications to say the driver had overshot their property.

"We got a call about midnight to say he was in Ohura, 50km past us," Mr Fletcher said.

"They had got hold of him and he was coming back."

However, it would be another two hours before the ambulance arrived at the Fletcher's property on the Tahora Saddle.

In a brief statement to the Taranaki Daily News, TDHB regional ambulance service manager Ian May said an investigation had been launched into the incident.

"The Taranaki DHB Ambulance Service was called to an incident that required a non-emergency response and transportation to hospital from Eastern Taranaki on Saturday night," he said.

"There was a significant delay, and we have contacted the family and apologised for that delay.

"An investigation is well under way to ascertain why this has occurred."

Mr Fletcher had given the dispatcher their Rural Address Property Identification (Rapid) number, which gives the property's distance from Stratford, but the information was not understood by the ambulance driver, he said.

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"He didn't know what a Rapid number was so he didn't know he should be looking for the blue post," Mr Fletcher said.

"When he got here, he said he had seen a sign for Ohura on the way out so he went there.

"He actually ended up in Matiere, which is even further away."

Mrs Fletcher was finally on the road to Taranaki Base Hospital about 3am, only to discover the five-hour journey to her home had put the ambulance driver over his allowable hours behind the wheel.

"They had to arrange for a second driver to meet us in Stratford and finish the drive to New Plymouth," she said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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