Dave Armstrong: Our police and fire service are fully funded, why not ambulances?
OPINION: Last weekend, despite the rain and freezing northerly, I was playing soccer in a social team where our combination of age and cunning usually gets beaten by the opposition's combination of youth and talent.
However, with the score tied late in the first half despite us playing into the strong wind, we felt a rare win was on the cards.
Then one of our midfielders went into a tackle and didn't get back up. He had suffered what would later be diagnosed as a dislocated hip. Such injuries are rare in social games, but not unheard of.
I was ordered to call an ambulance as our player couldn't move and was in intense pain.
I called 111 and gave my location – an artificial pitch at Wellington College. As our midfielder writhed, the operator patiently established the exact details of Wellington's largest secondary school.
"What suburb is it in, sir?"
"It's in the central city."
"According to our records, it's in Mt Cook."
"OK, OK, it's in Mt Cook," I huffed. This was no time for semantics. "Just get an ambulance here as soon as possible."
I was advised to wait at the school gate in order to direct the ambulance to the pitch. Twenty minutes later, as the rain sheeted down, there was no ambulance. Back at the pitch my team-mates had constructed a makeshift wind shelter for our freezing injured player.
Soon another team-mate turned up at the front gate and decided to find out, using far more colourful language than me, what the hell was going on. Apparently, it was a busy afternoon and ambulances had been diverted to more serious jobs. Fair enough. But the good news was that one was on its way from Korokoro. Korokoro – the Hutt suburb 15 kilometres away?
Meanwhile our player continued to shiver. About 15 minutes later, there was still no sign of any ambulance, though I'd heard the sirens of two going to other jobs.
My team-mates started loudly cursing the system that led to such a wait. I'm sure that if I had chirped, "Actually, guys, Minister Jonathan Coleman says we've got a health system that's the envy of the world," my hip would also have been dislocated.
I called 111 again.
'Has there been any deterioration in the patient's condition?'
Well, yes, there had been because the poor bugger had been lying in agony in the freezing cold for more than 40 minutes waiting for an ambulance!
I was promised for the second time an ambulance was on its way.
A few minutes later, about 50 minutes after I called, an ambulance arrived. Hallelujah. The crew were amazing. They assessed Maradona immediately, gave him some medication to dull the pain then efficiently lifted him on to a stretcher and quickly got him to hospital.
So I have no complaints about the wonderful staff of Wellington Free Ambulance, but almost an hour to wait? What funding situation has led to this? We live in a society when an Uber turns up in seconds, a pizza in minutes, yet it takes 50 minutes to get a semi-hypothermic footballer with a dislocated hip less than a kilometre to hospital.
What do we do about it? Hope that someone invents an Uber-lance? Pray that a property developer who made millions through capital gains donates a fortune to the ambulance service?
Though Wellington Free Ambulance gets about three-quarters of its funding from the government, it's a charity. I accept an ambulance service can't plan for when accidents occur, but surely full government funding could improve staffing and help reduce wait times? Our police and fire service are fully funded, why not ambulances?
Rather than the government saying to ambulance services, "you've got this much money, if you need more, ask the public," we need to say to the government, "the ambulance took this long to turn up, how are you going to improve it?"
As Diana Crossan, the retiring chief executive of Wellington Free Ambulance, recently said, "It's slight madness that we still need to shake a bucket to raise money to keep the business going."
- The Dominion Post