Fleurieu Peninsula left stranded after with no local ambulances available at 8.30pm on October 16, 2019

MISSING YOU: Fleurieu Peninsula family John, Felisa and Mel Mountstephen with photos of their son and brother Jason, who passed away in July this year. His parents waited about 20 minutes for an ambulance. Photo: Dani Brown.
MISSING YOU: Fleurieu Peninsula family John, Felisa and Mel Mountstephen with photos of their son and brother Jason, who passed away in July this year. His parents waited about 20 minutes for an ambulance. Photo: Dani Brown.

Originally published October 18.

If you were on the Fleurieu with a medical emergency at 8.30pm on Wednesday, October 16, it could have been a long wait for help.

According to the Ambulance Employees Association (AEA) - the union for ambulance employees - there were no available ambulances south of the Adelaide CBD at that time.

"Metropolitan suburbs, all the way through to Victor Harbor and Cape Jervis, are completely uncovered," the AEA posted on their Facebook page at that time.

"How is this safe?"

On the Fleurieu Peninsula in one day, there is five ambulance crews: a volunteer crew at both Yankalilla and Goolwa, and at Victor Harbor there is a paramedic/intensive care paramedic crew and a transfer crew during the day, and a transfer crew in the afternoon and evening.

AEA industrial officer Leah Watkins told The Times that the two Victor Harbor crews on shift, the Yankalilla crew, and all of the crews south of Adelaide were all busy.

"Goolwa was the only crew in the area, but they were on a job," she said.

The Facebook post said two recent examples of "incredibly long responses to emergency cases" were a crew from Noarlunga being closest to an emergency at Rapid Bay, 73km away, and the closest crew to an incident at Normanville was at Bedford Park, 65km away.

Minister for Health Stephen Wade said the AEA's statement about ambulance availability on October 16 was not correct.

"Tragically, there was a major crash at Kangarilla at 8.50pm and four ambulance crews from the southern region were sent to attend. Every day of the year, ambulances are available to be reallocated from lower priority jobs to higher priority jobs as required. They needed to do that (on Wednesday night) and they did it," he said.

After hearing this news, Hayborough woman Mel Mountstephen knew she needed to take a stand.

On July 12 this year, Mel's brother Jason Mountstephen and his parents John and Felisa waited more than 20 minutes for an ambulance from Strathalbyn to arrive at their Goolwa home, but by then it was too late.

She said it was not about if there was an ambulance available, it was the delay in getting there.

Jason was 34 years old when pulmonary hypertension, the heart condition he had lived with for seven years, led to his passing.

WHERE ARE THEY?: This image was posted on Facebook by the Ambulance Employees Association on October 16.

WHERE ARE THEY?: This image was posted on Facebook by the Ambulance Employees Association on October 16.

According to his father, Jason had "had a good day". But only about 10 minutes after he went to bed, John heard a cough and a gasp come from Jason's bedroom.

When there was no response after knocking on Jason's door, John walked in and immediately rang 000. The woman on the other end of the line talked John through CPR while they waited for an ambulance.

"It felt like it was forever," he said.

The ambulance which arrived had been on a job at Strathalbyn and was diverted to the Mountstephens' house, as the Goolwa crew was on another job and a Victor Harbor crew was ramped.

"Whether an ambulance got to him sooner and could've saved him, that's something we don't dwell on. We don't blame the ambos," John said.

Jason was an active SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) officer before his diagnosis, when he became a non-operational member. Mel, who is two-and-a-half years younger, followed in his footsteps into SAAS.

According to his family, Jason was always trying to find ways to improve the service.

The family has picked up his torch and has been campaigning for a fix to ramping issues at metropolitan hospitals and the addition of more beds and resources at hospitals to stop other families going through what they did.

Mel said the health system desperately needed an injection of funding to help.

"We need to look in our own backyards. We need to put money towards education, first responders, more beds, more nurses, more doctors," she said.

Mr Wade stated the Auditor General's report released last week "highlighted an increase of $23 million in funding for South Australian Ambulance Services in 2018-19, which saw an increase of 137 full time employees from the previous financial year".

Mel said along with patients having to wait while ambulances were ramped, ambulance officers were also suffering, because they couldn't get to other jobs.

Mrs Watkins, from the AEA, said ambulance resources on the Fleurieu Peninsula were "often depleted" due to numerous transfers to Flinders Medical Centre.

"On odd occasions, even ambulances at South Coast District Hospital have been ramped," she said.

"There hasn't been enough staff on-site for the ambos to hand over, so the patients remain in the ambos' care.

"For the ambulance officers, their biggest bugbear is they can't help their own community."

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