WA: Ambulance crisis linked to deaths as report recommends sweeping changes

St John Ambulance could lose its contract in five years if it does not improve its service amid staff shortages linked to the deaths of at least two people.A parliamentary inquiry has recommended St John Ambulance be allowed up to five years to improve its service before the West Australian government gives the contract to another provider or takes control.It comes amid staff shortages due to Covid-19, with the state government announcing on Wednesday that senior Health Department and WA Police representatives would be stationed at St John Ambulance headquarters to assist the service and firefighters helping when needed.The McGowan government was forced to intervene after the death of grandmother Georgina Wild, who suffered a heart attack while waiting two hours for an ambulance, and it has since been revealed an elderly man also died in similar circumstances. In its 219-page report tabled in parliament on Thursday, the Public Administration Committee found St John Ambulance did not meet its target response times in 2020-21.A key recommendation was considering whether answering and dispatching triple-zero calls should be transferred to WA Health.The committee also found workplace culture was an issue and recommended St John Ambulance comprehensively re-evaluate its structure and processes.Furthermore, the committee found the emergency ambulance service and non-emergency ambulance service were not being operated separately as intended. “Emergency resources are currently being used to deliver non-emergency patient transfer services outside the hours of operation of the patient transfer service (1am-6am). This diminishes emergency capacity,” the report read.It total, the committee made 74 findings and 48 recommendations, but it will be up to the state government to determine whether they should be adopted.St John Ambulance chief executive Michelle Fyfe said the organisation had only received the report at the same time as the public and was still going over it.“This will not distract us from our core business because right now, as an organisation, we are committed to delivering our essential service to help West Australians during community spread of Covid-19,” Ms Fyfe said.“This is where we are needed and where we remain most focused.“I have said this a lot in recent weeks – our team is continuing to do the best they can in some very challenging circumstances and I stand by them.”In a statement before the report was handed down, the United Workers Union said it had been warning St John Ambulance was ill-prepared to deal with the Omicron outbreak since January.The union’s national ambulance co-ordinator Fiona Scalon said the situation was “now at breaking point”.“A complete overhaul of the service is desperately needed. St John have dropped the ball and is doing the WA community a disservice,” she said.“The ambulance service is an essential government service and as such should be run as an essential government service, not one controlled by private interests and associated low levels of transparency and accountability.”Originally published as ‘Breaking point’: Ambulance crisis linked to deaths as report recommends sweeping changes