The health select committee has called for all city ambulances to have two crew on board within three years and those in large towns to be double-crewed within four years.
The MPs said single crew call outs should stop, but it would take time for more staff to be put in place. It said all cities and towns of more than 15,000 people should have them within four years.
The Order of St John, which is the largest ambulance service provider covering 86 per cent of the population, estimated it would require $53 million more a year to double-crew all its callouts.
The majority of this money ($40 million) would be needed to increase its frontline staff from 800 to 1200.
The Health Ministry said the large number of volunteers saved about $33 million a year and it estimated double crewing would cost $18 million a year.
That’s expensive but still leaves a lot of the country with single-person crews, Oamaru for example has fewer than 13000 people so wouldn’t be included in the new policy.
Then there are places like Wanaka with a permanent population of around 4000 people, but it can have up to five times that many people at New Year.
Events at other times of year also attract large crowds, putting added pressure on ambulance services which are dependent on a dwindling number of colunteers. The Upper Clutha A & P show brings thousands of people in to Wanaka over the second weekend in March and for the last few years it has coincided with the Mototapu Challenge which attracts hundreds of entrants plus supporters. The Saturday night of show weekend this year the St John ambulance had just one crew member on duty, covering all the Upper Clutha.
MPs said funding to ambulance services through the Ministry of Health and ACC was complicated and confusing.
For instance, all callouts created costs, but ambulance services were only paid if a live person was transported to hospital for treatment after a traffic accident.
The night we called our GP because our baby was having fits he summoned an ambulance to take us down to Dunedin. When it arrived there was a discussion about how it would be better to go the long way via Oamaru Hopsital because hospital-to hospital transfers were paid for but home to hospital trips were not.
It shouldn’t matter where patients come from and go to, nor what caused their need for an ambualnce. If they need the service they need it so payment shouldn’t be determined by arbitary rules; and the ambulances which come to their aid should be double-crewed when possible so paramedics aren’t torn between treating the ill or injured and driving them to hospital.