Ambulance crews ‘overwhelmed’ as emergency patients left and waited for hours, says the union

Emergency patients across Adelaide were left waiting for up to seven hours for an ambulance to arrive last night amid an “overwhelming” strain on southern Australia’s healthcare system, the union said.

At one point, there was a backlog of 42 life-threatening cases with no extra crew to attend, with the SA opposition saying it was the “worst night ever” in terms of pressure on state paramedics.

Ambulance Employees Association (AEA) secretary Leah Watkins said in one case that a paramedic was forced to drive a family member to the hospital because an ambulance never arrived.

“A paramedic was called last night from their father, who said their mother had collapsed at home and that they had called for an ambulance, but half an hour had passed and no one was still there,” she said.

“They were so frustrated when they said, ‘Thank God my parents have me as a resource to be able to call on to get around and help, but what about all the families who don’t have it?'”

The union tweeted a video it said showed staff “desperately trying to send ambulances” for calls.

Ms Watkins said the pressure peaked at. 19:45, but that it had hardly subsided several hours later.

“It was classified as … a life-threatening affair that we should have been there in 16 minutes.”

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The South Australian Ambulance Service (SAAS) has been contacted for comment.

Ms Watkins said she had taken the drastic step of writing to the forensic pathologist because “things are so bad that it is in all likelihood now that we are going to see inevitable deaths in the community”.

She said patients who called for help but were judged to have lower priority were not treated at all.

“The decision was made by SAAS that they would just call back to these people and tell them that an ambulance would not come, that they should find their own alternative,” she said.

“Elderly people who have fallen or broken a bone are not considered life-threatening, so last night they would not even have received an ambulance.”

The union said COVID had exhausted the ambulance crew at a time when Omicron cases were putting a huge strain on the healthcare system as a whole.

A total of 26 COVID deaths have been reported in SA during the 52 days since the borders reopened in November – significantly more than the 13 over 300 days predicted ahead of the state’s COVID-Ready roadmap.

Earlier in the week, paramedics took nearly an hour to arrive to treat a severely scalded three-year-old boy amid high demand for ambulances.

Premier Steven Marshall apologized for the 51-minute wait.

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