Ambulance driver blame is 'unfair'

BY ESTHER TAUNTON
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2010

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An ambulance volunteer worker says his colleague has been unfairly hung out to dry by the Taranaki District Health Board.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were others in the organisation who should be taking some of the blame after Tahora woman Annie Fletcher waited five hours for an ambulance to arrive last Saturday.

The Taranaki District Health Board has blamed driver error for the incident, the second time emergency services have been unable to find a patient in the area in less than two years.

The DHB said it was investigating why the driver had not been able to locate the Fletchers' home with an onboard GPS system.

However, the man who contacted the Taranaki Daily News yesterday said while the driver had made a mistake, he was being treated unfairly.

Others within the service should be taking some of the blame and systemic problems also contributed, he said.

"The driver made a mistake but he couldn't have used GPS – he didn't have one."

"The GPS system is available only to ambulance communications in Wellington," the man said.

"It is for tracking the ambulances, not for plotting a course.

The system meant communications staff could only watch as the lost ambulance driver drove right past the patient's home and 60 kilometres further into the back country.

"There is no cellphone or radio coverage out there," the caller said.

"There was no way they could get hold of him.

"It was a big stumbling block sending a single-crew ambulance."

A second crew member could have helped read the map or kept an eye out for the address, he said.

Taranaki DHB hospital and specialist services general manager Joy Farley said the DHB were not placing all of the blame on the ambulance driver and were doing all they could to support him.

Communications staff had noticed the ambulance was drifting off course but had been unable to contact him by cellphone or radio.

"Under normal circumstances, GPS is not needed because we are able to contact the drivers," she said.

"If ambulance officers have their own GPS system, they are allowed to use it but it must have a verbal alert.

"We don't want our drivers looking at a screen while they are driving, sometimes at speed, and perhaps worried about a patient."

Ms Farley said the issue of ambulance crewing had been looked at in depth in recent years and Mrs Fletcher's case was not considered serious enough to warrant sending a double crew.

"She was classified as being priority three which is non-urgent and there was a first responder present," she said.

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"Her husband was also there and the decision to send a single crew is one I agree with."

- Taranaki Daily News

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