Heart attack victim not declared dead, says Ambulance Victoria

Ambulance Victoria denied allegations that a woman was declared dead by paramedics after suffering from a heart attack in May.

SafetyCulture reported last week that a 62-year-old woman collapsed in her Lalor home after suffering from a heart attack and according to a report in The Age newspaper, Paramedics who attended to the woman allegedly declared her dead after minutes of trying to revive her.

The ambulance union commented on a leaked report to The Age, which the union claims found some stations in regional Victoria are staffed by fatigued paramedics. The union suggested fatigue levels are high and that it equates to an officer having a blood alcohol content of .05 once in every 5 shifts. The union suggested that some Paramedics are working up to week straight and are clocking up more than 80 hours.

Ambulance Victoria contacted SafetyCulture to provide clarifications about these issues.

Ambulance Victoria CEO, Greg Sassella, said that AV paramedics did not declare the woman dead as reported by The Age.

“We have had an opportunity to establish the facts after speaking to paramedics involved,” said Mr Sassella.

“Paramedics did exceptionally well to revive a woman who had a sudden death collapse and they are distressed that their professionalism has been called into question by the release of factually incorrect information.

“Ambulance Victoria will continue to support the four paramedics who did all they could to save this woman’s life. Unfortunately, we understand the patient subsequently passed away and our thoughts are also with the family of the patient.

“It was wrongly reported that paramedics declared the woman dead and that she woke up six minutes. This creates unnecessary anxiety and distress for the family of the patient.”

“After about 30 minutes of resuscitation attempts the paramedics held a very difficult discussion with the family of the patient about whether the resuscitation should continue – this is normal practice in these circumstances.

“As they are trained to do, paramedics momentarily paused to monitor the heart rhythm. A heart rhythm and weak pulse were detected and the paramedics continued to resuscitate the woman. She was transported to hospital, sadly, she died soon after.”

Ambulance Victoria Acting General Manager of Regional Services, Garry Cook, said that Ambulance Victoria commissioned fatigue management experts, Fatigue Safety in 2009,  to assist them in developing a ‘holistic fatigue risk management system.’

According to Mr Cook, the data collected in the report had been used to make improvements in rostering, as well as establishing fatigue management.

“Based on this report, Ambulance Victoria commenced a number of initiatives to address the issue,” he said.

“We initiated roster changes in early 2011 and stations that were identified in the review process have progressively moved to new or changed rosters. We have moved to a minimum ten hour rest break between all shifts.

Mr Cook also said that they have since developed interim guidelines to assess numerous factors including predictable shift patterns, length of shift and number of days off when implementing new or changed rosters.

“We have increased the pool of staff to be able to fill short term vacancies and this reduces the reliance on overtime.

“Over the past year we have been working with a group of staff representatives from across the State to develop locally specific fatigue controls to contribute to the strategy.

“Ambulance Victoria has changed a significant number of on-call stations to now run 24/7 and introduced additional ambulances to assist in managing workload and fatigue. By moving to predictable shift patterns, staff can better plan to avoid fatigue risk factors.

Ambulance Victoria is currently developing education avenues for staff to assist them in identifying life-style factors contributing to fatigue.

“Paramedics who feel they are fatigued are offered support through a number of initiatives,” said Mr Cook.

“Our staff, the Union, and WorkSafe have been engaged in the project and will continue to be throughout the five year roll-out. This is a large project and these changes take time.”

The union contests Ambulance Victoria’s claim that improvements were made since the 2009 report. Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie told News Limited he had no knowledge of any fatigue issues being resolved at overworked stations.

“The report hasn’t had any effect on fatigue levels because paramedics are still working excessive,” he said. “It shows these branches are far in excess of safe fatigue levels, but nothing’s changed.

“They can say they’ve done some things, but it just hasn’t gone far enough.”



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