Lives on the line

Local MP Troy Bell is worried that regional lives will be lost after a Mount Gambier woman was left waiting at the Royal Flying Doctor Service hangar for 11 hours after suffering a heart attack and being airlifted to Adelaide.

The 70-year-old was airlifted from Mount Gambier on Friday evening, however she had to wait at the RFDS hangar until she was transferred to the Flinders Medical Centre about 9am on Saturday.

Mr Bell said he understood there was a critical shortage of ambulances in Adelaide over the weekend, however the situation was now putting regional lives at risk.

“This is now the second incident in a couple of months where a Mount Gambier patient has had to wait overnight at the hangar at the RFDS,” he said.

“What I cannot understand is the RFDS has two of their own ambulances in Adelaide at the hangar but are not contracted to transfer the patient to the closest hospital, or the designated hospital.

“A couple of months ago I was alerting the government to this issue and I will certainly be in contact with the minister to see what assurances have been made and to ensure this will not happen again.

“Whilst I understand this reason this is happening because of critical shortages of paramedics we need to use every resource available and if there are resources from RFDS that can be used but are not contracted we need to get this addressed as soon as possible.”

Mr Bell said the situation was “just not good enough”.

“If a patient who has had a heart attack is in Adelaide they are a priority case.

“I cannot see how somebody who has had a heart attack in Mount Gambier is not considered a priority case,” he said.

“This is a very serious situation, it’s now the second time in a couple of months we have seen this unfold, or repeat, and it’s certainly no reflection on the RFDS, they are contracted to bring patients from Mount Gambier in a very timely and professional manner.

“This is clearly about our state’s health system being under tremendous pressure.

“Imagine if it was one of your family members – this is not good enough.”

A SAAS spokeswoman said on Friday evening SAAS coordinated the interhospital transfer of a Priority 3 patient from Mount Gambier, utilising the RFDS to provide patient care and transport.

“SAAS and the RFDS have a very collaborative relationship and both agencies are equally committed to providing safe and quality patient care,” she said.

“Every attempt is made to ensure patients experience seamless transfers between health facilities but inevitably in this complex space, lining up aircraft and ambulance service capacity can be challenging, with SAAS prioritising life-threatening emergencies at all times.

“Where RFDS is contracted to provide transfer of a patient, their highly skilled nurses will provide ongoing care.

“All patients continue to receive appropriate monitoring and treatment whilst waiting for ambulance transport at the world-class RFDS base in Adelaide with the ability to escalate cases to SAAS and MedSTAR.”

Health Minister Chris Picton agreed the situation was less than ideal.

“Clearly it is not acceptable, but it is a sign of how under pressure the ambulance service is, with how many staff have got COVID at the moment,” he said.

“In terms of the RFDS, I have been to that service, they have an exceptional facility in Adelaide where they have essentially a mini hospital area of their service there where they can treat people who are coming in on planes from across regional SA.

“Obviously such a long, lengthy period of time is not acceptable but that is a symptom of how under pressure our ambulance service is in terms of their staffing pressures at the moment.

“RFDS staff, I have no doubt, would have provided excellent care in that custom-built facility to be able to provide that care, but we know that ambulance service being under pressure means that people are being delayed in terms of getting some of that care they need.”

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