WELL-known Korumburra businessman Mark Holmes has had a worrying experience with local ambulance services.
His concerns revolve around response times to an emergency incident on Friday, January 6, in which he could have been having a heart attack, but was actually affected by a highly painful, perforated gall bladder condition.
He’s hopeful others won’t be forced to wait, for what he claims was almost an hour, for the ambulance to arrive.
But he suspects they already have, and will continue to, unless something is changed.
Ambulance Victoria, on the other hand, has replied to Mr Holmes’ concerns, saying their response to the incident was appropriate in the circumstances.
And readers of the Sentinel-Times, commenting on the issue on Facebook over the weekend, were understanding of Ambulance Victoria’s position, rather than alarmed.
They posted that “ambos do a great job under tough circumstances, and the state government has a lot to answer for”, providing poor hospital services in the country while expecting ambos to cover large geographic areas.
Mr Holmes, however, intends to use his incident as a test case. He wants his claims properly investigated and a full reassessment of the adequacy of ambulance arrangements, across the whole region – South Gippsland and Bass Coast – undertaken to restore community confidence in the service. He’s in a good position to be critical.
Not only does he have a significant history with heart disease but he’s also chairman of the Gippsland Southern Health Service (GSHS), the organisation which operates the Leongatha and Korumburra hospitals and several aged care facilities in the area.
He has raised these issues, while also asking about triage arrangements between Ambulance Victoria and local hospitals, in the full knowledge of GSHS CEO Mark Johnson.
He’s mindful that the medical services local hospitals are able to offer is a factor.

What happened?
Early last month, on Thursday, January 5, Mark went to bed with a “shocking pain” in his stomach, hoping to feel better in the morning.
However after a terrible night, during which the pain got worse and worse, he considered phoning his son, a local health professional, but ultimately decided to call ‘triple zero’ at, he says, 7.20am.
By this time he was in agony.
Ambulance Victoria says it logged the call at 7.41am.
“Having had experience with the health system, I tried to remain calm but I gave them a lot of information about the severe abdominal pain I was feeling.
“I also told them my cardiac history and said the back pain I was feeling was consistent with what I had felt before (when having a heart attack some years ago),” Mr Holmes said.
“When they hadn’t showed up by 8 o’clock I was in a bad way having trouble breathing, so I called them again,” he said.
He was angry by this stage.
Mr Holmes said they ultimately arrived at 8.15am to 8.20am and were apologetic.
He claims they said the call came in around the change in shifts and the crew that was about to go off didn’t want to/weren’t allowed to pick up a new job that could carry them into three hours of overtime.
They allegedly opted to wait for the changeover crew.
“Ambulance Victoria will deny that. They told me the ambulance covering this area was already on a call but I doubt it,” Mr Holmes said.
Fortunately Mr Holmes wasn’t having another heart attack but he was admitted to Warragul Hospital with a perforated gall bladder, a hideously painful condition.
“If as I suspect it was a budgeting and rostering issue, rather than the service being stretched at the time, it’s just not good enough.
“If that’s their attitude, it’s a culture that will kill,” Mr Holmes said.

Came from Leongatha
In response, Ambulance Victoria Regional Director, Simon Jemmett, offered this explanation:
“In this case, the first Triple Zero (000) call was received at 7.41am on Friday, January 6, 2017,” he told the Sentinel-Times.
“Based on his condition and all information provided during the call, the case was assessed as not requiring an urgent, ‘lights and sirens’ ambulance.
“The Korumburra ambulance was kept available for high-acuity cases and paramedics from Leongatha were dispatched before a second call to Triple Zero was received at 8.04am. Paramedics arrived at 8.15am. He was well managed by the ambulance crew who identified his illness and appropriately transported him to West Gippsland Hospital in Warragul.
“We understand that waiting for an ambulance can cause concern and have spoken with the patient and offered to meet to discuss our response,” he said.

Concerns remain
But Mr Holmes believes there is a problem and he listed other cases where people have had to wait too long for an ambulance; including an hour for a broken leg at Kongwak, and three hours for ‘chest pains’ in Korumbura.
He says Ambulance Victoria needs to be more open and transparent with the community about how many ambulance officers and how many shifts are funded at each ambulance station in the two local regions, Bass Coast and South Gippsland, and where coverage comes from when local ambulance stations are unstaffed and unattended.
“I also believe that when ambulances go to Melbourne, for example, if there is an incident in the metro area on their way back, they could be diverted to it.
“Now that makes sense on one level, but it also puts pressure on ambulance resources left in this area.”
Mr Holmes says he also has concerns about why ambulances are not able to use local hospitals, especially Leongatha and Wonthaggi, for relatively minor incidents and also the inflexible nature of some work practices.
“Speaking to some of the highly qualified former paramedics that have gone across to private patient transport services, they say they just got fed up with the bureaucracy and the unions.
“Look, I’m concerned about what happened to me but I’m only saying something about it because I’m not sure we are getting the coverage the community needs,” he said.
“I suspect they are trying to use the resources the way the ‘bean counters’ want, not the way the community needs them to be used.
“They’ll say they are meeting their KPIs but if that’s the case, the KPIs aren’t adequate.”


What the readers said about ambulances

SENTINEL-Times’ readers identified three key issues when they posted about ambulance response times on our Facebook page.
They listed time wasted on non-life threatening calls, the lack of funded services at local hospitals and a simple reality of ambulance operations in their messages.
“It doesn’t matter how much funding is thrown at the ambulance service, you still can’t pull an ambulance, fully equipped out of thin air, if all ambulances are busy!” said one.
“The general public needs to be educated what does and doesn’t constitute an ‘emergency’. Too often paramedics are called to attend minor, non-life-threatening issues or used as a taxi service to get to see a doctor.”
“Country ambulance services cover much larger geographical
areas than their metropolitan counterparts.”
“Surely the introduction of an after-hours GP super-clinic can ease pressure on our paramedics and our urgent care centres by dealing with the non-life-threatening ailments we so often see.”
“The fact that, in an emergency, the ambulances have to go to Warragul or Wonthaggi is also crazy. If the hospital in Leongatha had a funded ED, they would not have to leave the area to get the care they need.”
“It’s about a lack of funding and the area which they have to cover at times is outrageous. My brother is a paramedic in Sale, and is often called to emergencies in Bairnsdale and Traralgon! The ambos do a great job under tough circumstances. The state government has a lot to answer for.”


What Ambulance Victoria had to say…

AMBULANCE Victoria has responded to concerns raised by Korumburra businessman Mark Holmes who was the victim of a painful abdominal attack last month.
He says it took too long for the ambulance to arrive.
Here’s what Gippsland Regional Director, Simon Jemmett, said:
“Korumburra and South Gippsland are served by dedicated paramedics who are proud to help their local community. Paramedics genuinely care about their patients and transport them to the most appropriate hospital for the care required.
“In this case, the first Triple Zero (000) call was received at 7.41am on Friday, January 6, 2017.
“We have a state-wide, consistent and evidence-based call taking and dispatch system, which is also used by more than 3000 ambulance services worldwide. Based on his condition and all information provided during the call, the case was assessed as not requiring an urgent lights and sirens ambulance.
“The Korumburra ambulance was kept available for high-acuity cases and paramedics from Leongatha were dispatched before a second call to Triple Zero was received at 8.04am. Paramedics arrived at 8.15am. He was well managed by the ambulance crew who identified his illness and appropriately transported him to West Gippsland Hospital in Warragul.
“We understand that waiting for an ambulance can cause concern and have spoken with the patient and offered to meet to discuss our response.
“Ambulance Victoria has recently introduced an additional overnight non-emergency transport crew into Wonthaggi which frees up emergency ambulances for high-acuity cases.
“The government announced late last year a new Paramedic Community Support Co-ordinator for South Gippsland. This will be an experienced paramedic who will have a role developing and supporting first responder teams across South Gippsland, as well as providing emergency response.
“South Gippsland residents can be assured they have highly-trained and readily available teams of paramedics. We respond on a medical priority basis to ensure we provide the best possible care to the community.”
Responding to other queries he said “the Korumburra Ambulance Branch is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week” and “ambulances are available overnight at multiple locations in South Gippsland including Korumburra, Grantville, Leongatha, Wonthaggi, Cowes and Foster” when coverage is required.