Changes to the way St John deals with non-urgent 111 calls is not about saving money, the charity says.
The ambulance service began trialling a system for coding non-urgent 111 calls as "grey" or "green" in Christchurch at the start of this month.
The changes meant calls given a grey rating - the least urgent calls - would be referred to an advanced paramedic in the control centre, who would carry out a clinical assessment over the phone, instead of sending an ambulance straight away.
St John received 27,774 calls in Christchurch in the year to June, and 9529 were classified as non-urgent.
It was expecting a 4.5 per cent increase in calls this year, but would not receive more government funding to match.
St John clinical manager Sue Gullery said the charity needed to become "more efficient", but changes to the way it prioritised non-urgent 111 calls were not about saving money.
Some patients just needed information on how to self-care, or would need to be referred to their GP.
Gullery said the changes would improve patient safety as they were being asked more questions.
"We need to do something different with the calls coming in to ensure we don't miss something because we've got more calls coming in and not enough ambulances," she said.
Historically, all patients had been picked up by an ambulance, with many taken to hospital emergency departments, but it was not always the "best place for them".
The new system would be trialled in Christchurch for three months before being rolled out throughout New Zealand if deemed to be successful.
"It is very early, but it's looking promising. There are some patients who have already benefited from different pathways," Gullery said.
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Stephen Phillips said his only concern about the new system was that people received the right service at the right time.
"Whether that's an ambulance or whether that's some other sort of service . . . as long as the alternative meets the needs of the patient, I'd say that's fine," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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