Western Australia has recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases as the fallout from troubles affecting St John Ambulance continues. A report states that alternatives should be considered if the service does not improve within five years.
- Hospitalized COVID cases have declined despite the peak in new infections
- A report makes 48 recommendations to improve emergency services
- The government has announced it will be holding daily briefings with St. John
Another six people have died from the virus in a day when a record 17,105 coronavirus infections were reported in the state.
WA now has 88,781 active cases while 300 people are hospitalized with the virus, down from 327 with 10 in intensive care.
The previous high in daily cases for WA was 17,033, set on Wednesday last week.
“Significant burden” for the rescue service
Amidst COVID-related staffing shortages in the health system and at St John Ambulance, a report by the Parliamentary Committee on the provision of emergency services in WA has been submitted to Parliament.
The report, including its 74 findings and 48 recommendations, was presented by House of Lords whip and chairman of the Public Administration Committee, Pierre Yang, who subsequently issued a statement.
The committee had made a number of recommendations to address the fact that St. John was unable to meet its contractual target response times for emergency calls in fiscal 2020-2021.
Mr Yang said the government should review implementation of the recommendations within the next five years and consider alternative rescue service providers or a government service if service delivery doesn’t improve.
The recommendations included:
- That new indicators for the rescue service are developed and regularly reported to Parliament
- The government is investigating whether having health ministry workers answer 000 calls would improve treatment outcomes
- A system needs to be developed to provide information about patient outcomes to St. John
- Ambulance availability must be made publicly available online, as is the case in Queensland
- Operating hours of non-emergency patient transfer services will be extended to 24 hours a day to avoid tying up emergency resources by performing non-emergency transfers between 1am and 6am
- That ambulance response times are recorded from the moment a 000 call comes in, and not when the ambulance is dispatched
- Conducted employee culture surveys and reassessed the organizational structure of St. John to address a perceived lack of employee trust in management
- That Aboriginal communities who do not have access to an ambulance will be identified and the adequacy of existing services will be examined, as communities, including WA’s largest remote Aboriginal community, Bidyadanga, do not have guaranteed access to ambulances.
Report delivery comes as COVID holiday and record levels of ambulances ramping up plague WA Health and St John Ambulance.
An investigation into the death of a woman who waited two hours for an ambulance on Sunday morning is also continuing, in a scenario the government has ruled “unacceptable”.
It was announced yesterday that two senior police officers and two senior health officials, including the deputy chief health officer, would be embedded in the St John Ambulance.
This weekend, 48 firefighters will also be trained to drive ambulances and work alongside paramedics to address staffing shortages.
Daily briefings between St. John, Government
Before the report was filed, Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson reiterated that using firefighters to drive ambulances was an option available to St. John as Sunday morning saw a 40 percent reduction in staff.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that it should have been used earlier. I think the fact that this is not the case gives the government significant concerns,” she said.
Ms Sanderson said in an agreement with St John she would now receive daily briefings from the organization.
“We have reached a new arrangement with them over the course of a series of meetings that have taken place this week that we will have an update every day on staff levels, furlough levels, the number of ambulances on the road and pressure points on and such keep going,” she said.
“So that we can help them, so that we can work with them.
“We want to know where they are encountering challenges when transferring patients in emergency rooms so that we can work there and remove that roadblock.”
Public Sector Takeover Warning
Shadow Health Secretary Libby Mettam also spoke before the report was presented, claiming it may have been influenced by unions.
“It is clear that unions have wanted the public sector to take over St. John Ambulance for many years,” she said.
“The committee will be chaired by a union member and the final decision will be taken by the health secretary, who was also promoted because of her ties to this union.”
Ms Mettam said there was no way to ignore the impact of the ramp-up on emergency services and said it was the result of an underserved hospital system.
“The fact that we’ve had about 21,000 hours of ambulance travel so far this year compared to all of 2020 shows the pressure our emergency services are under,” she said.
“And because we have no capacity in our hospital system, we entered the pandemic with the lowest number of available public beds per capita in the country.
“The McGowan administration also needs to look at the entire healthcare system which is frankly in a mess and its WA patients who are paying the price.”
‘That won’t distract us’: St John CEO
St. John Ambulance CEO Michelle Fyfe issued a brief statement in response to the report.
“We have actively participated in this investigation and take note of the report presented today,” she said.
“We received the report at the same time as the public, so we have not had an opportunity to review it and are unable to respond in detail.
“We will provide the Minister with a formal and considered response within the prescribed timeframe.
“This will not distract us from our core business as right now as an organization we are committed to providing our essential service to help Western Australians spread COVID-19 in the community.
“This is where we are needed and this is where we concentrate the most.
“I’ve said that many times over the last few weeks – our team continues to do their best in very difficult circumstances and I stand by them.”