If you or a loved one has ever needed an ambulance, you’ll know the feeling of reassurance when it pulls up and the team of professionals step in. Ambulances are a vital part of Australia’s emergency services and are run by each state government.
In 2016-17, the Ambulance Service of NSW alone responded to 1,122,101 calls, with an average 3074 responses per day. That equates to one ambulance call-out every 28.18 seconds.
The critical services provided by paramedics save countless lives. Sadly, these services are sometimes diverted by people calling for non-emergencies – like being unable to sleep or having a child with an earache. While you should never hesitate to call an ambulance in an emergency, it’s helpful to understand when to call one and when other services may be more appropriate.
What constitutes an emergency?
Any situation that poses an immediate risk to a person’s health or life is an emergency, explains Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) paramedic, Melissa Webster.
“In any situation involving sudden illness or injury, it’s essential that an ambulance is called immediately by calling Triple Zero (000) to activate the emergency services”, she says.
Webster explains that when someone makes a call to QAS, a highly trained Emergency Medical Dispatch Officer will ask several questions.
“Remain calm while answering these questions and ensure that your responses are clear and concise”, she says.
“The QAS Emergency Medical Dispatch Officer will provide you with first aid instructions and dispatch the paramedics. Do not end the call until you are told to do so.”
The Triple Zero number is used by all emergency services Australia-wide. The Australian Government Triple Zero website recommends that you stay calm, don’t shout, and be prepared to provide a location or address so the ambulance knows exactly where to go.
People who have a hearing or speech impairment should call 106. This is a Text Emergency Call, not an SMS. You can call from teletypewriters too.
When not to call an ambulance
Webster notes that Triple Zero (000) should be reserved for emergencies only. If you are uncertain about whether an emergency ambulance is required, it is suggested you call a state-based health advice line.
In Queensland, 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) is a confidential service where you can talk to registered nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the cost of a local call.
“Registered nurses conduct a comprehensive telephone assessment resulting in a recommendation of the most appropriate time and place of ongoing care required for that specific patient complaint,” explains Webster.
“Staff can advise you if you need to call an ambulance for immediate help. If Triple Zero (000) is called for a non-urgent incident, an ambulance will be dispatched. Knowing what is and isn’t an emergency can help people understand whether it’s appropriate to call for an ambulance or seek their own medical assistance through their GP etc.”
Knowing when other services can support you means the emergency services are free to deal with genuine emergencies.
What is ‘ramping’?
You might have heard the term ‘ramping’ used in relation to wait times at hospital Emergency Departments (ED). “Ramping refers to the time ambulances are located at a hospital’s ED while paramedics care for their patient until they can be handed over to the care of ED staff,” Webster explains.
“Patients are not left in the rear of ambulances—all patients arriving by ambulance are taken into the hospital’s ED on arrival.” She explains that all patients arriving at an ED, either by ambulance or other means, are triaged (assessed by hospital staff according to the severity of their condition).
“Anyone whose condition is urgent or life-threatening, such as someone in need of resuscitation, will always be prioritised over other patients and treated immediately when necessary. When a patient arrives by ambulance, and is triaged as a non-urgent case, the paramedics will stay with the patient until they can be transferred into the care of hospital staff,” she says.
“It is always the aim of ED staff to ensure patients are attended to in a timely manner and that waiting times are kept to a minimum. You will always be attended to according to the severity of your condition and how busy the ED is at the time.”
Health Direct – free advice from the Australian Government’s Department of Health: 1800 022 222
NURSE-ON-CALL – free health advice from a registered nurse. Call from anywhere in Victoria, 24 hours a day: 1300 60 60 24
Lifeline – for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention: 13 11 14