A 13-year-old boy suffering an asthma attack stopped breathing in a taxi on the way to hospital after the child's mother was told no ambulances were available, with a number out of action due to ramping and other jobs.
- A number of ambulances were ramped at the hospital and others were unavailable on the night of July 14, which meant none could be sent to the boy
- CPR was performed on the boy until paramedics from Oatlands and Huonville arrived
- The boy was resuscitated and taken to hospital by ambulance, and is understood to be recovering
The boy's mother called an ambulance when he had an asthma attack just before 8:00pm on Thursday July 14, but was told there would be delays because of high demand for emergency medical services.
About 40 minutes later, the mother told the ambulance service she had called a taxi to take the child to hospital.
Half an hour after that, the taxi driver called triple-0 saying the boy had stopped breathing and they needed emergency assistance.
Police officers were the first to reach the taxi, and CPR was performed on the boy until paramedics arrived — almost 20 minutes after the emergency call was made.
The paramedics were crews from Oatlands and Huonville, both more than half an hour's drive from Hobart.
Three vehicles out of action due to training
The Health and Community Services Union said no Hobart ambulances could respond because a number were ramped at the Royal Hobart Hospital, caring for seven patients who were waiting to be transferred to the Emergency Department.
Other ambulances were also unavailable.
The boy was resuscitated and taken to hospital by ambulance and is understood to be recovering.
Ambulance ramping is an issue across Australia, with emergency departments reporting longer wait times for patients to be treated.
In June, the ABC reported that, of the 8.8 million presentations at Australian emergency departments each year, one in three people wait more than four hours to be treated and admitted to a ward for further care or to be discharged.
Incident reflects 'dire situation' of health system
The paramedics union said the Tasmanian incident was extremely alarming and dangerous.
"The whole situation highlights how bad our health system is at the moment and how we need something immediately done to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again," said Robbie Moore, industrial manager for the Health and Community Services Union.
Mr Moore said the community should be able to expect they would get emergency medical treatment from paramedics when they needed it.
"That wasn't the case in this situation, you were left with police who don't have those qualifications and skills having to perform that role.
Mr Moore says the root cause of the incident was a shortage of hospital beds at major hospitals like the Royal Hobart Hospital.
"It means that we have ambulances and paramedics ramped at the hospital, unable to attend to these people that desperately need an ambulance, and that's because there's not the beds for the patients who are ramped or in the emergency department to be placed in.
"This clearly shows we need to open up more beds immediately so that other Tasmanians are not put at risk like this 13 year old was last week."
Ambulances spend thousands of hours ramped
Ambulance ramping happens when there is no space in the emergency department for patients to be admitted, which is in turn caused by a shortage of hospital beds, called "bed block" or "access block".
Ambulances are forced to park outside the emergency department, "on the ramp" and paramedics care for their patients until they can be transferred to the ED.
While ambulances are ramped, they cannot respond to new call-outs.
In May, Premier and Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff told Budget Estimates that between July 2021 and March this year, ambulances were ramped at Tasmania's major public hospitals 14,399 times.
During that period ambulances spent 20,363 hours ramped.
Ambulance Tasmania chief executive Joe Acker told budget estimates March 2022 was the worst month ever for ambulance ramping in Tasmania.
Tasmania's Health Dashboard showed only 37 per cent of people who presented to the RHH ED were seen on time in May 22, down from 49 per cent in May, 2021.
The Health Department does not collect data on deaths associated with ambulance ramping, but it does record and investigate significant adverse events.
In a statement, a Department of Health spokesperson said Ambulance Tasmania (AT) was "committed to providing timely and high-quality emergency care and support to people who need it in the community".
"While we cannot comment on individual cases for reasons of patient confidentiality, patients and their family members may choose to make their own way to the nearest emergency department if there is an appropriate means of transport available, and it is considered safe to do so," the spokesperson said.