St John says sorry for costly ambulance ride

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 10:00 25/07/2014
 Diana Le Mon
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ

AMBULANCE CHARGES: Kimihia Home and Hospital facilities manager Diana Le Mon fought St John Ambulance after she felt two elderly residents were overcharged.

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St John Ambulance will review their private transport fees after two Waikato patients were overcharged.

Kimihia Home and Hospital facilities manager Diana Le Mon was bemused when she discovered two residents who were transported to the elderly care facility in the same ambulance were charged in excess of $200 each.

The patients were discharged from Waikato Hospital on the same day and transferred to the Huntly facility by one ambulance.

"We were all endeavouring to cut costs by arranging to transfer them together," said Le Mon.

She said when St John had transferred just one patient in the past it cost about $200, so she could not understand why the total of this trip would not be split between the two patients.

However, one patient was invoiced $209.42 and the other $215.08 - an anomaly St John's financial department could not explain.

Le Mon wrote to St John asking for one charge to be remitted or that each patient be charged only 50 per cent of the trip.

"This is not the first time this has happened, if you were in a taxi you would not pay per person, you each split the total cost," she said.

In a written response, St John Waikato district operations manager Stuart Cockburn said private hire of an ambulance for transfer from a hospital to private address was not subsidised by government.

"All requests for this service are provided with the cost of individual transports (based on distances travelled) prior to bookings being made and charges are per patient."

However, the following day the Waikato Times was told St John Ambulance had waived the patients' fees and was reviewing its processes.

"St John is also reviewing its approach to private hire charges in circumstances such as this one - two people travelling to the same address at the same time in the same vehicle," he said.

Le Mon said she had received a call from the organisation which apologised for the way it had handled the situation.

Earlier this year St John increased all its fees to cope with the increased demand for services.

Patients treated by an ambulance officer or transported by ambulance because of a medical emergency are charged $88, an increase of $13 for some areas in New Zealand.

The charge for those not eligible for New Zealand publicly funded health services also increased from $769 to $800.

St John operations director Michael Brooke said the rise in charges was a response to the 14,000 extra calls they received in the 2012/13 financial year.

St John central district operations manager Steve Yanko said that in a month, the central region ambulances responded to between 1500 and 2000 emergency calls.

Contracts with the Ministry of Health, ACC and district health boards funded nearly 80 per cent of the St John ambulance service's direct operating costs.

The shortfall was made up from community donations, fundraising, revenue from commercial activities - including private hire - and contributions from part charges.

amanda.parkinson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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- Waikato Times

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