NSW Ambulance says it is working with Transport for NSW to ensure emergency services retain access to properties inside Newcastle’s light-rail construction zone after an incident this week involving a seriously ill patient.
A Newcastle woman living beside the light-rail works in Hunter Street told the Newcastle Herald that an ambulance had difficulty reaching her terminally ill husband when he was having trouble breathing on Monday morning.
Leanne Morton, who lives with husband Grant on the eighth floor of an apartment building opposite Worth Place, said her experience raised questions about emergency services gaining access to the fenced construction zone during life-and-death situations.
Mrs Morton said paramedics had wasted valuable minutes reaching her husband when they encountered traffic control in Hunter Street.
“It was possible for the ambulance to park directly in front of our building as there were already trucks accessing this same space, but the traffic controller refused to let the ambulance pass,” she said.
The Herald could not confirm with paramedics nor their union representatives if an ambulance had been denied entry.
Both NSW Ambulance and Transport for NSW said in statements to the Herald that construction workers and paramedics had worked together to achieve the best outcome for the patient.
Somebody could have had a heart attack, and those few extra minutes could have meant someone living or dying.- Leanne Morton
“NSW Ambulance is aware of an incident on 15 January 2018 where paramedics received a call for assistance from a resident of Hunter St, Newcastle,” NSW Ambulance said.
“Paramedics used an alternative access point on the advice of construction workers that it was the quickest way to the premises.”
Transport for NSW said it had provided a “detailed breakdown of 2018 construction zones” to all emergency services before light rail work started.
“In this instance, workers on site worked with paramedics to ensure they took the quickest possible route to access the patient.
“We remain committed to working with all emergency services on road closures and alternative access arrangements.”
Mrs Morton said the ambulance had diverted to a back lane, making a stressful situation worse.
“The emergency phone operator was wonderful, talking to me while waiting for the ambulance because it was taking so long, trying to explain the difficulty the ambulance officers were having trying to get access to our apartment building,” she said.
“Luckily, they finally arrived after pushing the ambulance bed several hundred metres down Hunter Street along the path after having to park behind the real estate office off Union Lane.
“My husband then had to be pushed back along the same path, on oxygen and in an agitated state, past coffee shops and businesses on a very uneven walkway.
“It was very difficult, extremely, when he couldn’t breathe, and all I wanted to do was get him out and someone there to help look after him. It was all very unpleasant.”
She said the growing number of people living in units along Hunter Street made access an important issue for ambulance and fire services.
“Somebody could have had a heart attack, and those few extra minutes could have meant someone living or dying.
“Luckily, we were able to get my husband safely to hospital, but I’m not sure this would have happened if he was having a heart attack.
“Surely someone has thought of all of those of us who live within the construction zone and having access to emergency services?
“I wonder who is going to take responsibility if someone dies because it takes so long for emergency services to respond.”
Australian Paramedics Association president Chris Kastelan said only an “inherent and significant risk to paramedics and workers” should delay ambulance entry to a construction zone.
“Traffic controllers need to understand that emergencies must be treated as a priority and there is never a reason to impede an ambulance crew,” he said. “We commend the paramedics for the action they have taken to reach the patient in this case.”
Meanwhile, Herald reader Alan Thomas said he was lucky to escape with a bloodied elbow after being knocked down and pinned under a safety fence which blew over on Sunday in Worth Place.
“I was lucky I only lost skin. I was pinned on the shoulder with only my head and left arm exposed,” he said.
“If a post had hit me, it could have been fatal or at the least serious.
“Within five minutes a lady with three young children were about to walk through the access, but it was already blocked.”
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