St John paramedics juggling record numbers of patients as Omicron cases surge

St John is juggling record numbers of patients as Omicron puts the pressure on.

Emergency ambulance services across New Zealand have recorded their highest ever call volumes, with 111 calls up to 47 percent higher than the pre-COVID average in February 2020.

Newshub recently spent the day with one busy Auckland St John ambulance crew. The shift started early and it wasn't long before paramedics Brie Forster and Oliver Tyack were called to their first job.

A car had flipped on Auckland's southern motorway and it was a code red, meaning it could be life-threatening. But this time the driver was lucky.

"The patient in this vehicle has minor injuries, so they're being assessed by the crew in the vehicle behind me," Tyack says.

It's one of the hundreds of call-outs. The number of incidents St John responded to across Auckland on Sunday was up 29 percent.

"We're turning up to work at six in the morning, we're straight out the door going to our first patient and often only stopping for our lunch breaks. You know, just back-to-back-to-back patients," Tyack says.

And there's an obvious reason.

"Just going to lots of jobs that come down COVID-positive, COVID-positive," Forster says.

"The majority of our workload now are COVID-positive patients."

The next call-out was just that.

COVID-19 adds a layer of complexity, every time they have a positive patient they have to put on full PPE, making the process a lot longer.

As they assessed the patient inside the ambulance, across the road a fire broke out. Thankfully no one there needed treatment.

After a few checks, the patient was grateful to be taken to Auckland City Hospital.

St John paramedics juggling record numbers of patients as Omicron cases surge
Photo credit: Newshub.

As one ambulance leaves another one arrives - it really is one in, one out, and you can see how quickly the beds fill up.

On Sunday, St John saw a 24 percent increase in incidents across the country compared to the pre-COVID average. And more than 200 were COVID-19 related.

With an increase in demand and a high number of workers off sick, it's causing delays.

"We're quite often getting redirected a few times on the way to a job, just depending if higher acuity jobs are coming in, and then everything is just running slower because of all of the extra PPE and the extra cleaning," Forster says.

The ambulance and equipment all need to be decontaminated before the next patient - which was another COVID patient.

They were called to a 46-year-old woman who's got COVID and has breathing difficulties. She was struggling to talk and was feeling numb.  

After a few checks, they helped her to the ambulance.

Anyone with severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, or another medical emergency, should not hesitate to call 111.

But there's been a rise in the number of people calling for non-urgent matters.

"I've been to patients who've called us just because they want a RAT test and no other reason and calls like that do get frustrating," Tyack says.

The message is to not call for non-life-threatening emergencies because someone who really needs an ambulance might be missing out.