FRUSTRATION directed towards the NSW Ambulance Service’s triage initiative, Healthdirect, was amplified this week as a young woman suffering multiple fractures was denied access to ambulance assistance for over half an hour.
On Monday 20-year-old child care worker, Katelyn Worldon, fell over at her workplace, Little Possums Childcare Centre, at around 5pm. In severe pain with what her fellow staff members ascertained to be a severely injured ankle, Ms Worldon was unable to get up up and place any weight on her foot.
Unfortunately, her woes were only just beginning.
Over the ensuing 40 minutes, Ms Worldon would remain on the ground and untreated by emergency services as the childcare centre director, Anna Hassett, battled to secure an ambulance for her injured worker.
Ms Hassett called 000 for an ambulance due to her fear of moving Ms Worldon. She was put through to the ambulance section, repeatedly asked questions about herself and her address before being asked about the patient.
After providing details, Ms Hassett was then transferred through to the Healthdirect section.
Healthdirect is marketed as a 1800 number that people can call if they need 24-hour health advice from a registered nurse when the situation is not an emergency.
The Healthdirect website states: If it is an emergency, call triple zero immediately if you think you need an ambulance. Which is exactly what Ms Hassett did.
Furious at the lack of concern expressed, the bundle of questions and a blatant disregard for the service’s duty of care, Ms Hassett on behalf of her employee is calling for answers.
Ms Hassett wants to know how it is considered acceptable for the NSW Ambulance Service and Healthdirect to leave a woman with two breaks in her ankle, one clean break to her fibula and ligament damage, and who has since undergone surgery, on the ground for over 40 minutes whilst insinuating her injuries were insignificant.
“I am furious about what happened and disappointed with how we were treated,” Ms Hassett said.
“I have never needed to call an ambulance before. Surely if it was warranted that a resident or a business call an ambulance, then it is a serious situation.
“We aren’t doctors but we could see how much pain Katelyn was in. She heard her ankle crack as she fell and she couldn’t get up. Surely that is a good enough scenario to send an ambulance?
“I was transferred by the ambulance responder to a Healthdirect nurse. How someone, even if they are qualified, can diagnose over the phone without looking at patient is ridiculous to meFor 20 minutes Ms Hassett was required to convince the Healthdirect operator that Ms Worldon required help. For some time Ms Hassett was even under the illusion that an ambulance had already been dispatched and that she was being kept on the line to provide updates for the paramedics she believed were on route to the centre.
“The woman I spoke with kept asking why Katelyn wasn’t getting up and speculated she had simply rolled her ankle,” Ms Hassett said.
“Eventually the nurse asked to speak to Katelyn, who at this time was feeling faint and experienced full loss of movement to her injured leg. The nurse asked her why she wasn’t standing and requested that I take off Katelyn’s shoe, get her to stand then drive her to the hospital myself.”
As a childcare centre with youngsters still in attendance, the director on the phone, a staff member injured and others attending to her, logistically, even if Katelyn could have been moved, no members of staff could have left the building due to their own duty of care requirements.
After a total of 30 minutes on the phone, Ms Hassett demanded an ambulance be sent and one arrived 10 minutes later.
Before agreeing to send an ambulance the triage nurse asked Ms Hassett what she would do if there wasn’t a service like the one she had rang and would she like to complete a survey.
Furious beyond words, Ms Hassett is questioning where the emergency service call centre’s priorities lie.
An ambulance crew arrived and were dismayed as to why they weren’t called earlier.
They administered pain relief, four people lifted the patient onto a stretcher and she was conveyed to hospital. On Wednesday Katelyn underwent surgery on her injuries in Wagga.
“I am fearful of what would happen in a more serious case and if you were by yourself,” Ms Hassett said.
“It was the worst experience I’ve had and I am so disappointed in the service. I feel for the paramedics who turned up as they knew nothing about the delay and said they too were frustrated they can’t help people sooner.
“I appreciate the ambulance service may at times outsource for minor injuries, but if this is what it takes to get an ambulance, then it’s not right.”
This week’s 000 debacle was not the first time a local resident has been wrongly dumped onto the Healthdirect service.
On the evening of July 9 an 85-year-old man’s health was placed in severe danger after his wife rang 000 and he was denied an ambulance.
The elderly gentleman was left fighting for his life by the time an ambulance was dispatched the following morning, and while outrage was expressed by he, the ambulance officers who attended the next day and the man’s doctor, NSW Ambulance stood defiantly by the triage system that transferred the ill man’s wife to a Healthdirect nurse.
Secretary of the Health Services Union NSW, Gerard Hayes, is outraged yet another patient has been forced to endure unnecessary stress and pain because of a cost cutting measure.
“We want to see patient care addressed as a priority as opposed to budget strategy for cutting costs,” Mr Hayes told the Times on Wednesday.
“Our NSW Ambulance stations need to be adequately staffed instead of working out what the budget is and restructuring the service around that.
“Right here, Tumut residents are seeing the problems with triaging patients to another service.
“People like this young lady suffering multiple fractures are left laying on the ground for lengthy periods, waiting for paramedic treatment to stabilise the fractures and to administer pain relief, whilst a system who cannot see them makes the decisions regarding their health.
“We are calling for the minister to be involved to address the staffing issues and the cost cutting measures within the NSW Ambulance system. The minister needs to address the needs of community but not through another layer of service that adds to response time.”
Mr Hayes said that the Healthdirect system works for minor injuries, but Katelyn’s accident should never have been hand-balled on.
Concerns from the union are mounting that the paramedics will continue to be the ones who cop the criticism relating to the Healthdirect service and will also continue to be the ones who are left to clean up the mess after mis-diagnosis and long wait times.
“All these incidences when the triage system gets it wrong reflect badly upon the ambulance organisation,” Mr Hayes said.
“The medical fraternity talk, about the golden hour in which to receive treatment. It is particularly critical, but if people are referred to different services then back to the 000 ambulance line after a lengthy wait, additional trauma to the patient’s condition can occur.”
Once a person contacts 000 a client number is noted and the clock starts ticking.
Once the caller is transferred to Healthdirect, time is no longer of the essence.
A response time smoke-screen is created if the triage nurse deems an ambulance is necessary after all, as a new client number is issued and the clock clicks back to zero as soon as the caller is back talking with the 000 ambulance call centre.
“It is obvious that the fundamental issues surrounding ambulance response are not being addressed,” Mr Hayes said.
“The community is growing and need the high level of professional paramedic care that our ambulance service possesses.
“NSW Ambulance is a professional body and should be able to provide a full service to the community without calling on other bodies to assist.
“Positive patient outcome is the goal and needs to be the focus, not cost saving strategies.
“On a regional level I am passionate about making sure that pain is not disregarded in these instances. Organisations saying in hindsight some other option should have been taken, is simply not good enough.”