In 2023, St John emergency call handlers grappled with close to 700,000 calls, a 2.4% increase from the previous year.
James Stewart, St John Canterbury District Operations Manager sheds light on the rise in ambulance callouts, which translates to about 123,000 incidents in the past year, a concerning trend that poses challenges for emergency services.
Stewart provides insight into the cultural attitudes prevalent among rural New Zealanders who tend to downplay their health issues. This reticence to seek timely medical help is a significant factor contributing to the increase in emergency calls, particularly for serious conditions like chest pain, which saw an 11.7% uptick in callouts.
Stewart emphasises the need for a shift in community mindset.
"We know that rural New Zealanders are more than likely to say 'I've got a bit of chest pain, but I'll just push through because I don't want to bother anyone.'"
He strongly advocates for people experiencing such symptoms to call for an ambulance as early intervention can be life-saving. The episode also touches upon the geographical distribution of these callouts, with North Waikato being identified as having the highest volume of calls.
The discussion highlights the importance of understanding and adapting to the unique challenges faced by rural health services, including geographic isolation and population density. Stewart further notes that increased public awareness and the breakdown of stigma surrounding seeking medical help have led to a rise in callouts.
This cultural shift is likened to changes in crime reporting statistics. The analogy is drawn to demonstrate that while the numbers have increased, it is partly due to people being more willing to report and seek assistance, a positive development overall. Moreover, the podcast explores the impact of COVID-19 on health service delivery, particularly in rural areas, and the advancement of telehealth services.
St John has enhanced its ability to offer guidance over the phone, thus ensuring timely medical advice even before an ambulance arrives.
Stewart recommends familiarising oneself with the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED) and encourages participation in first aid courses.
"We really rely on people who live in rural or remote communities to start doing [first aid] while we're on our way to help," Stewart says, underlining the critical nature of immediate response in medical emergencies.
Listen to the full chat between James Stewart and Dominic George above.