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Growth In Demand For Hato Hone St John Ambulance Services Continues

Hato Hone St John has continued to record an increase in demand for its ambulance services in 2023.

Last year, emergency call handlers received close to 700 thousand (689,980) 111 calls for help – a 2.4 percent rise from 2022 (673,821). Although this increase was lower than the previous two years which each saw call volumes grow between 9-11 percent, last year’s figure is 24 percent higher than five years ago (555,807 calls in 2019) and 54 percent higher than a decade ago (446,985 calls in 2014).

Winter ailments and COVID-19 contributed to a higher workload over the colder months, with August being the busiest month for emergency call handlers and dispatchers who managed 60,822 calls for help. This was closely followed by December, with 60,488 – 111 calls recorded.

Dan Ohs, Hato Hone St John Deputy Chief Executive - Ambulance Operations, says frontline ambulance staff were also kept busy, responding to 437,960 incidents across the motu – a 4.2 percent increase compared with 2022.

The busiest locations for ambulance responses were Christchurch, Auckland, Manawatū, Hamilton, and the Western Bay of Plenty.

While the emergency ambulance service has seen steady growth in the number of patients with moderate, serious, and critical injuries, it has seen a 16 percent decrease in the number of patients attended to by an ambulance crew with more minor conditions between 2020 and 2023, largely due to the success of secondary triaging where lower acuity patients are assessed by a clinician over the phone and provided more appropriate advice and care.

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“The most common reasons for calling for an ambulance last year were consistent with previous years. These included referrals from a health practitioner, breathing problems, chest pain, falls, and people unconscious or passing out. But there are some notable incidents that have emerged.

“We recorded a 30.4 percent upsurge in industrial/machinery incidents, and a 22.5 percent rise in calls for heat/cold exposure, potentially due to patients affected by extreme weather and flooding events.

“In addition, we saw a 15.7 percent increase in incidents involving hazardous materials such as carbon monoxide,” says Mr Ohs.

Water related incidents remain a concern for ambulance staff who responded to 482 drowning, near drowning, and diving incidents last year, which was 11.1 percent higher than in 2022.

The year got off to a busy start for the emergency ambulance service as Hato Hone St John responded to several significant weather-related events in January, including severe flooding and slips in Northland, Auckland, and the Coromandel Peninsula.

The organisation scaled up its resources again in February, as Cyclone Gabrielle brought unprecedented adverse weather to many parts of the North Island.

“Our people showed incredible resilience as they stepped up again to prioritise the safety of our patients through what was another incredibly challenging period. I’m grateful and proud of all our volunteers and employees who played a role in caring for our communities during all these weather events.”

As 2023 progressed Hato Hone St John entered the second year of its five-year Manaaki Ora strategy, which includes a commitment to achieving health equity for all.

A new clinical strategy was launched to lay a foundation to integrate better with the health system, and explore new models of care, to ensure the ambulance service is high quality, safe and well-received by patients as well as ensuring the appropriate clinical expertise and support is available to the entire organisation.

“We’ve remained firmly focussed on building a stronger workforce by boosting the number of frontline staff, as well as filling vacancies. We’re pleased with our international recruitment efforts, having hired more than a hundred experienced paramedics from Australia and the United Kingdom,” says Mr Ohs.

“We’re also proud to have delivered our very first recruitment hīkoi in Tairawhiti (Gisborne) and the Eastern Bay of Plenty with the aim of improving our workforce so that it better reflects the communities we serve.”

The success of Hato Hone St John’s Residential Emergency Medical Technician programme continued in 2023, with 290 new graduates working as ambulance officers around the motu since the launch of the initiative in 2021.

Hato Hone St John also bolstered its response capability for large scale emergencies and events by establishing additional major incident support teams (MIST), rolling out 16 new MIST vehicles around the motu, and introducing two new command units.

As 2024 gets underway, Dan Ohs says the organisation looks forward to further developments in its journey of making life-changing differences in communities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

Breakdown of reasons for calling 111 for an ambulance by chief complaint

This data is for the last two years in descending order. It reflects the number of emergency ambulance service incidents, not the number of patients and therefore actual patient numbers are higher.

Reason for Call20222023Growth
BREATHING PROBLEMS54,92210.5%51,8349.7%-5.6%
CHEST PAIN52,00210.0%52,8669.9%1.7%
FALLS AND BACK INJURIES45,7688.8%46,6178.7%1.9%
SICK PERSON - SPECIFIC DIAGNOSIS44,3518.5%42,0357.9%-5.2%
UNCONSCIOUS/PASSING OUT36,5857.0%36,9546.9%1.0%
ABDOMINAL PAIN/PROBLEMS22,1814.2%22,5884.2%1.8%
TRAUMATIC INJURIES18,1683.5%19,1883.6%5.6%
TRAFFIC CRASHES17,1383.3%17,3603.2%1.3%
STROKE (CVA)15,3482.9%17,0153.2%10.9%
MENTAL HEALTH11,3462.2%12,0612.3%6.3%
HEART PROBLEMS11,0402.1%10,8872.0%-1.4%
BACK PAIN - NON-TRAUMATIC6,1041.2%6,3271.2%3.7%
CARDIAC/RESPIRATORY ARREST5,2051.0%5,5681.0%7.0%
DIABETIC PROBLEMS3,8120.7%4,0470.8%6.2%
STAB/GUNSHOT WOUND1,1700.2%1,2280.2%5.0%
ANIMAL BITES/ATTACKS8980.2%9870.2%9.9%
EYE PROBLEMS/INJURIES7490.1%7410.1%-1.1%
HEAT/COLD EXPOSURE2040.0%2500.0%22.5%

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