Who’re you going to call?

January 10, 2009

It’s about four years since a shepherd on Glen Dene Station on the shores of Lake Hawea fell and broke his leg.

Because cell phone coverage was ify and his battery was nearly flat his companion called a mate with a helicoptor who knew the area rather than dialing 111 which he knew would involve a lengthy explanation of their whereabouts.

The chopper arrived quickly and the shepherd was taken to Wanaka for medical help but ACC refused to pay the bill because they hadn’t called emergency services.

Publicity after then-candidate for the Otago electorate Jacqui Dean intervened resulted in a backdown and ACC eventually paid up.

I understand the reason for protocols over rescues but when you’re in the wop-wops time is of the essence and the right way of doing things is often too slow for safety.

ODT journalist Philip Somerville discovered this after his pelvis was crushed by a boat on the shores of Lake Wanaka last year.

The delay in getting help could have cost him his life. 

Somerville writes about the accident  and about the aftermath  in Dunedin Hospital where he spent five weeks as a patient.

St John has admitted failings in the way the 111 call was handled and the ODT editorialises on the problems with the system.

We suspect this tail-chasing lies at least in part in funding: will the patient recovery/rescue – let alone any search – be paid from stretched ACC, health services or police budgets? Clearly, it can be foolish, expensive and wasteful for emergency services to respond to an incident before the true needs are clear.

But the existing arrangements, especially for the southern lakes region where patient recovery from remote locations is often a comparatively lengthy business, are clearly unsatisfactory, as this specific case has demonstrated, and they must be sorted out at senior levels.

When medical emergencies are involved the response must be focused on patient’s needs, not on an erratic and inadequate bureaucratic emergency response system.

When we called 111 when our baby stopped breathing the phone was answered at the local hospital 20 kilometres from home by someone with decades of local knowledge. If we had to summon help now it would be answered in Christchurch by someone who almost certainly wouldn’t know our locality.

When you need help the last thing you want is to be slowed down by bureaucratic hurdles and inadequate training.

Centralising emergency call centres no doubt saves money but it sometimes takes time that could cost lives and that’s why people outside towns aren’t always confident that the best way to summon help is to dial 111.


Safety up to individual

January 10, 2009

We admired Fox Glacier from the distance enforced by safety barriers when we we there 18 months ago and thought about ignoring the warning signs to have a closer look.

We wondered if the warnings were to protect the business of the guides or if they were really about safety because it didn’t look dangerous.

But we’ve done a bit of tramping and know enough about the dangers of unstable ice to be wary. We’d also read reports of people who’d been injured when they ventured where they’d been warned not to go so we did the sensible thing and kept our distance.

Not everyone does and this morning’s ODT has photos and comments from a former guide showing the risks people take in spite of very clear warnings about the dangers.

Most of them escape injury because the danger is about ice falls which could happen but don’t always so those who take the risk usually return unharmed. But sometimes the ice does fall with fatal consequences for those in its path and that’s why two young Australians died this week.

It’s tragic and DOC is right to review its safety proceedures but I can not see how they are at fault nor that there is anything else they can do to prevent such an accident happening again.

As Conservation Minister Tim Groser very tactfully said

“There is always a degree of decision-making involved in accessing and managing the risks of the outdoors. . . “

 No matter what we do and where we do it, our safety is ultimately our own responsibility.


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