Heart attack victim left waiting days in Geraldton after three failed transfer attempts for urgent tests

A Geraldton woman says Western Australia’s strained health system is a bloody disgrace after she was left waiting days to be transported to Perth for urgent tests following a heart attack.

Cherrille Quilty went to the emergency department at Geraldton Hospital on Saturday afternoon after experiencing chest pains.

After a blood test confirmed she was having a heart attack, staff told her she would be transferred by Royal Flying Doctor Service to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth for an urgent angiogram.

However, a series of ambulance and flight delays meant she did not fly south until Monday afternoon.

The grandmother spoke to WAtoday from her hospital bed in Geraldton on Monday, desperate for help to get timely treatment.

The first flight went without me because an accident took priority, which is understandable, Quilty said.

The second flight on Saturday evening didn’t have a doctor available.

On Sunday night there was a transport issue with St John Ambulance.

They could have put me in an ambulance with another patient but instead called another ambulance which never arrived because it was called away to another job.

It’s now Monday, and I’m still in Geraldton with chest pains and no word on when I will be transferred to Perth.

This is a bloody disgrace and something needs to be done before someone else dies.

Last month, St John Ambulance WA chief executive Michelle Fyfe announced an independent clinical incident review into the death of a Geraldton woman who waited 32 minutes for an ambulance.

On the same day the Geraldton woman died, a woman in Busselton was triaged but not officially admitted to hospital and .

Dr Peter Allely, a Perth-based emergency physician and the WA faculty chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said doctors would want heart attack patients to have angiograms within a day, and the case highlighted a health system under extreme pressure.

An angiogram takes X-ray pictures of the coronary arteries and the vessels that supply blood to the heart to assess whether there are blockages and if an urgent bypass or a stent is needed.

The system has had basically zero surge capacity for many years and these are the manifestations of that, Allely said.

Generally if a patient has a heart attack in a regional area, within 12 to 24 hours we’d like them to be seen at a hospital where they can have an angiogram to gauge the severity.

On Monday, St John WA Head of Country Justin Fonte said the ambulance provider had deployed a community paramedic to Geraldton to provide additional cover and called in an extra crew to meet demand on the day.

The delays in this instance are unfortunate, he said.

St John has two emergency ambulances in Geraldton delivering around-the-clock coverage to community and is experiencing unprecedented pressure on services including in the regions.

Fonte said St John provided an inter-hospital patient transfer service in Geraldton but it was only operational on weekdays, and ambulances were equipped to transport one high-dependency patient at a time.

The incident raises further questions about the resourcing of regional health services and the standard of medical care available to West Australians living in country towns.

Fonte said St John had advocated for additional funding for ambulance paramedics in Geraldton.

Health Minister Amber Jade Sanderson was contacted for comment but diverted media enquiries to the WA Country Health Service.

Mid West regional director Rachele Ferrari said Quilty received immediate care when she attended hospital.

Since that time, we have been doing everything we can to get her transferred to the metropolitan area – including escalating the situation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and St John WA, she said.

While they will need to respond to questions around the delay, I’d like to commend staff at Geraldton Health Campus who worked hard to stabilise this patient and have consistently provided a high level of care while awaiting transport.

The case came on a busy weekend for the RFDS, with a spokeswoman saying the service transported 54 patients.

Plans were made to retrieve Quilty over the weekend, however two flights were diverted to high-priority patients who required urgent care.

The RFDS spokeswoman said the patient was assessed as not requiring an urgent RFDS retrieval as they were stable and under the care of the clinical team at Geraldton Health Campus.

Fyfe said WA’s health system was under pressure, with ambulance ramping now occurring in regional areas where it had not ever before.

She said resources were finite and Geraldton had experienced a 20 per cent increase in demand over the past five years, with March the busiest month on record for the town.

Ramping hits new extremes in Perth

Meanwhile, St John Ambulance issued a public alert for the first time ever on Monday evening warning of a delay in attending triple-zero calls because of extremely high demand.

A statement from the ambulance provider said about one-quarter of its fleet was ramped and its State Operations Centre was continuing to receive more than 40 calls an hour.

It is likely there will be a delay in an ambulance reaching people who call 000, the statement read.

Our priority is to provide care to Western Australians who require life-saving assistance.

Members of the community who required non-urgent health assistance were urged to call Healthdirect, local GPs or the 13COVID hotline if they had COVID-19.

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