St John denies ambulance for potential coronavirus patient

St John has apologised after telling a woman with serious respiratory complications they wouldn't give her a hospital transfer because it was "too risky" for their staff to do. 

Bernice, 38, has a chronic chest infection called bronchiectasis and is recovering in Auckland Hospital.

"On Monday I woke up quite short of breath and that prompted me to call my GP," she says.

She also had a fever so her GP recommended on a video consultation that she should go immediately to hospital. 

The doctor called the paramedic, who then called Bernice.

"After talking to me about my symptoms said they didn't think they'd be able to take me because I was a potential COVID patient and they would be putting their paramedics at risk."

The paramedic instead asked whether her flatmate could drive her to hospital but Bernice says because of her illness she had been isolating in her own room away from her flatmates. 

Bernice had to ask one of her flatmates to put on a mask, break her bubble and drop her off at hospital. 

Auckland GP & PHO Clinical Board Member Garsing Wong says it shouldn't have happened.

"Notwithstanding that St John do a wonderful job and it's really important to emphasise that, but in this situation, I did feel that they failed my patient. "

Bernice has now been tested for COVID-19. It came back negative.

St Johns is now apologising and says talking about a "risk of exposure" while on the phone to the patient - even if it wasn't about COVID - was wrong. 

"We could have managed the communication with this patient and the GP better and for that we apologise," St John Head of Clinical Practice Curt Ward says.

But he says it wasn't an unusual request to ask whether her flatmate could take her. 

"In this situation, we felt this patient was safe to self-transport."

But Dr Wong does not agree, saying: "It was inappropriate to bring a third party in to take her, who wasn't medically qualified".

"New Zealand needs clarity over how the ambulances wishes to deal with acute respiratory conditions."

St John says it has varying rules, depending on the situation, but is confident advice to self-transfer was safe.

It says it has no issues transporting COVID-19 patients or possible cases. 

And they'll continue to resuscitate patients - even those with COVID-19 - despite the Health Ministry saying today they wouldn't as it was too risky. 

If you have more information and would like to contact Michael Morrah in confidence, email