Australia Today

SA Ambulance Service Under Review After Man Dies Waiting Ten Hours for Help

South Australia's Ambulance Employees Association believe the man’s death was caused by “significant” ramping across Adelaide metropolitan hospitals.
Adele Luamanuvae
Sydney, AU
SA Ambulance Service Emergency Ambulance
SA Ambulance Service Emergency Ambulance: Photo by @chameleonseye via iS

SA Ambulance Service is launching a review after a 54-year-old Adelaide man died waiting more than ten hours for paramedics to arrive.

The man made a triple-0 call on December 27 last year as he was experiencing abdominal pain and vomiting. Initially, he was triaged as an ‘Urgent Priority 5’ case, which according to the SA Health Ambulance Transport policy means “an urgent incident with reduced risk of morbidity requiring a prompt response”. 


Parademics made three calls with the man over ten hours to check on his condition, and as it worsened, his case was updated to a ‘Priority 1’ – an “emergency incident that is immediately life-threatening requiring emergency response”. By the time ambulances had arrived on the scene, he had died.

South Australia's Ambulance Employees Association or AEA said that the man’s death was caused by “significant” ramping across all Adelaide metropolitan hospitals. Ambulance ramping occurs when ambulances line up at emergency departments unable to offload patients if the department has reached patient capacity.

"Ambulances were stuck at hospitals instead of being available for the community," the AEA said in a statement.

"This led to long delays in ambulance responses, and by the time an ambulance arrived for this patient, he had passed away."

AEA industrial officer Josh Karpowicz said 17 ambulance crews were ramped at the Royal Adelaide Hospital the night the man died. Ambulances were said to be ramped at the Flinders Medical Centre on the same night for up to seven hours.

"The night this occurred, there was over 50 cases pending across metropolitan Adelaide," he said.

"That's 50 cases that the ambulance service can't get to, because ambulances are caught up on the ramp,”

"For crews that are ramped at hospitals, it's really hard to hear patients in the community waiting for ambulances when there's no ambulances available.”


Rob Elliott, the SA Ambulance Chief Executive said the SA Ambulance Service would undertake a review to further understand the circumstances of the case.

"On the night, we were experiencing extremely high triple-0 demands and there was significant ramping as well, which gave us a lot of operational pressure," he said.

"We had to prioritise the highest priority patients that were our triple-0 calls at the time.

"Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the patients at this time."

Senior clinicians Bill Griggs and Keith McNeill have been provided details of the case, tasked with the undertaking of a clinical review into allegations that Adelaide emergency department staff were being forced to prioritise patients in ambulances over those in waiting rooms, due to ramping.

SA Health chief executive Robyn Lawrence responded to various claims regarding patient capacity and prioritisation on the night of the man’s death.

"Our expectation…is that patients are triaged at hospitals and that they are seen in order of priority," she said.

Lawrence said SA Health would "continue to do everything we possibly can" to "build new beds, hire more doctors and nurses and be more efficient".

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Adele is the Junior Writer & Producer for VICE AU/NZ. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter here.

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