Ambulance Service Communications Network
AMBULANCE SERVICE COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK
Mr CLOUGH (Bathurst) [6.08]: I draw attention to the fact that the Ambulance Service in my electorate faces a number of handicaps regarding its premises, and the questionable radio communications available to it. Shortly after I was re-elected to the seat of Bathurst for the Labor Party in 1991, the previous Government embarked on a program of punishment for the electorate. It started removing a number of public services from my electorate and putting them into other electorates, particularly National Party electorates.
The previous Government closed down the ambulance communications centre at Kelso and moved it to Dubbo, despite the fact that those involved were told that communication black spots were evident at that time in a radio system that operated from places as far afield as Dubbo. The reason given for the transfer was the old story of effecting economies, that is, the service will be altered in such a way that it pays for itself and the community service obligation of that service goes down the drain. That episode was a hallmark of the administration of the previous Government, and this approach is one of the main reasons that it is in Opposition today. On one or two occasions, as a result of the communication network operating from Dubbo, undue delays have occurred for people needing an ambulance urgently. When an ambulance is called for in the middle of the night, it cannot be delayed for a half-hour so that the operator can find out the location of the patient. The ambulance must be made available immediately and directed to the patient.
Recently a complaint was lodged with me by a constituent regarding a mistake made by the Ambulance Service in attending her husband, who had had a heart attack. I am not blaming the ambulance officers; they did the best they could with the equipment and facilities available to them. I was interviewed by a senior officer of the Ambulance Service. He told me of the difficulties ambulance officers have in identifying farms and farmlets in the district, particularly if a call is answered by an ambulance that is attached to a station out of the area and is, say, returning from Sydney. The ambulance could be diverted to a nearby area but that does not necessarily mean that the vehicle will arrive quickly or be the first on the scene. This case was tragic because the directions given were misunderstood by the service and the vehicle went to the wrong house. The Ambulance Service has told me in discussions that in this case it did not make a difference as the patient had already died, but the delay was most distressing for the family.
I have suggested to the Ambulance Service that there should be a calibrated system in each local government area by which properties, farms and
farmlets are readily identifiable. People living on, say, Hartley farm number five, six, seven or whatever should be given the identification number of their holding. The identifications could be maintained on a master map at the local ambulance station, and by that means clear directions could be given. The people would be told their code number and that they should quote it when calling for an ambulance. This seems a sensible and simple method of readily identifying locations to which ambulances are directed. The system has not been put into place by the Ambulance Service, and I do not know whether that is because of lack of funding. Such a system should be introduced urgently. In addition, the radio communications centre that was at Bathurst must be re-established to provide local control and local knowledge for ambulances operating in my electorate. The fact that the previous Government sought to punish us can be overlooked by the current Government. [Time expired.]
Ms ALLAN (Blacktown - Minister for the Environment) [6.13]: My colleague the Deputy Premier apologises that he is unable to be in the House this evening. However, on his behalf I assure the honourable member for Bathurst that the Government is committed to improving the delivery of health services to rural New South Wales, and particularly to his constituents in the electorate of Bathurst. The Ambulance Service is an important part of this service delivery. The Government is committed to ensuring that the people of rural New South Wales do not suffer because of the transfer of coordination centres. We are committed to ensuring that the Ambulance Service has excellent maps and the best possible training in the geography of the local areas they serve. Emergency services in rural areas can face difficulties in identification of properties. The Government applauds any move which will improve the ability of emergency services to identify the properties of people they are called to serve. I commend the honourable member for Bathurst on his concern and assure him on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Health of the value of his contribution in ensuring that improved health services are delivered to rural New South Wales.