Plea to fix ambulance delays

THE death of a much-loved Maffra resident has led to an impassioned call from his daughter to fix Ambulance Victoria delays.

Les Hooker was taken to Sale hospital by ambulance about 9pm on Saturday, November 15, suffering acute abdominal pain.

Diagnosed with an aneurysm, a leaking blood vessel to his kidney, emergency surgery at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital was recommended, with the hospital seeking MICA ambulance transport for Mr Hooker about midnight.

Air Ambulance was the desired transport, but bad weather had grounded the helicopter.

Staff at Sale hospital continued to desperately seek any ambulance to take Mr Hooker to Melbourne, but none was available locally.

Finally at 5.30am on Sunday, November 16, a road ambulance from Latrobe Regional Hospital arrived to transport the gravely ill Mr Hooker with two nurses and a doctor to Latrobe Regional Hospital, where he was transferred to a MICA ambulance.

As his blood pressure dropped dangerously low, the MICA ambulance diverted to Dandenong hospital rather than continue to St Vincent’s.

However because of his extremely low blood pressure, surgery was ruled out, and Mr Hooker died.

The death of her father has left Julie Hewat distraught and frustrated.

In a desperate Facebook blog to friends, later posted on The Age Facebook page, she wrote of her desperation in wanting a political party to ensure similar delays ceased.

“I want to know who will make getting more ambulances manned and back on the roads their number one priority, who will stick by that promise and make it happen!” she wrote.

“By the time he (her father) reached Dandenong, his blood pressure had dropped past the point where they could safely perform the surgery to save him, and so he died.

“I’m now left without my dad . . . but with the burning question that will never be answered . . . if they got him there in a reasonable time, maybe they could have saved him . . . maybe not.

“How many other people does this happen to?

“This is not just a number in a list of statistics … this is now a big hole in my family that absolutely nothing can fill ... this is my dad,” she wrote.

Ms Hewat wrote she did not want pseudo sympathy or hollow condolences from those standing for election.

She wants the ambulance delay problem fixed so no one else has to suffer the pain she and her mother are suffering.

“Show some respect for my dad … just keep your promise, put your money where your mouth is … and fix it!”

Asked by the Gippsland Times to explain the many hours of delay in responding to Sale hospital’s call for an ambulance, Ambulance Victoria’s acting Gippsland regional manager Paul James said the service was conducting a comprehensive review and would discuss its findings with Mr Hooker’s family.

In an emailed statement Mr James said the service would like to express condolences and sympathies to the family.

“Ambulance Victoria was called to transfer the patient from Sale hospital to Melbourne early on Sunday morning.

“An experienced paramedic in our communications centre liaised with the hospital to co-ordinate the transfer,” he said.

“An Air Ambulance helicopter was, unfortunately, not available because of inclement weather which made the transfer more complex.

“Two paramedic road crews and a Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance paramedic were involved in transporting the man to Dandenong Hospital,” Mr James wrote.

Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGee described the case as tragic and questioned why a road ambulance was not dispatched the moment the Air Ambulance was ruled out.

“The big question is if he had got to Melbourne in time would he have survived?

“The potential would be if an ambulance had been dispatched (when the air transport was cancelled) he would have been in surgery in Melbourne long before the road ambulance arrived at Sale at 5.30am.”

“This has to stop, particularly in Gippsland where you have had a series of serious response time delays.”

Mr McGee said there was an urgent need to improve services in Gippsland emphasising the Sale MICA single responder service closes at 9pm and the delay in accessing a normal road ambulance highlighted the need for night crews at Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale and Sale.

Despite the horror of the death of her husband, Vi Hooker had nothing but praise for Sale hospital staff.

Writing to the Gippsland Times, she said she wanted to pay tribute to them.

“The nurses sprang into action providing every treatment and comfort they could,” she wrote.

“They rushed around conferring with doctors and no effort was spared in doing everything possible to save him.

“After a decision to transfer him to St Vincent’s for an operation these poor frustrated nurses spent two hours trying to find an ambulance to transport him to Melbourne.

“My reason for writing is to thank, from the bottom of my heart, nurses Sue and Ely, plus all the others whose names I do not know.

“I also want to thank Dr Kathryn who was so caring and compassionate.

“They worked to their utmost capacity to save the life of a perfect stranger.

“I wanted them to know how much their efforts were, and are, appreciated.”