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St John concerns: Ambo staff search for a parapenter near Coronet Peak skifield in January

St John’s big bods refuse to say how badly their Queenstown ambulance staff are under the cosh.

But one local resident, who says it took St John more than 45 minutes to attend a medical incident involving his family, says more needs to be done to ensure the service is up to scratch.

The man, who didn’t want to be named, says with only one crew in operation the rest of the Wakatipu is essentially “unmanned”.

“Locals are in a position that you wouldn’t want to have an accident.

“You are in the adventure capital of the world in Queenstown – of course there are bloody accidents.

“It is the nature of the town, but you need a reliable response.”

There have been numerous major incidents in the resort this year, including serious car and motorcycle accidents, a fatal car crash and several skydive and parapenting crashes.

Many incidents take place on the outskirts of town, towards Glenorchy, Gibbston or Kingston.

When questioned by Mountain Scene about staffing, St John Southland and Otago boss Pauline Buchanan is tight-lipped and refuses to be interviewed.

In a statement, she says: “St John has a number of resources available in Queenstown to dispatch including ambulance, rescue helicopter, managers in response vehicles and Fire Service co-response.”

She won’t confirm if Queenstown relies on single crews to attend incidents.

Questions around staff pressures were ignored, including whether Queenstown crews can cope with two simultaneous emergencies.

Also off the cards – if current staffing levels are adequate for the resort’s continued growth.

Destination Queenstown estimates about 2.9 million tourists descend on the Wakatipu each year – 32 per cent domestic and 68 per cent international travellers.

In late 2015, Buchanan admitted the organisation was discussing extra funding with government.

But she’s also keeping schtum when asked what stage discussions are at.

What she will say: “The Queenstown community can have confidence that St John is providing appropriate emergency care to the people of the region.”

Not so, says Mountain Scene’s source, who points the finger at the government.

He says the Ministry of Health needs to do more to support tourist towns feeling the pinch.

Buchanan confirms St John is committed to ending the practice of single-crewing and is currently awaiting the outcome of a government-commissioned independent review.

St John can face high demand anywhere in the country at any time, she says.

“As an emergency service we have systems in place to support this including patient-centred deployment plans and the constant review and development of new systems and technology.”

In January, a St John crew spent 20 minutes searching for a parapenter who hit an 11,000-volt power line near Coronet Peak.

One ambulance and one 4WD vehicle attended the scene – involving at least four crew members, including two paramedics.

In September 2015, staff could not immediately respond to a skydive incident as both ambo crews on duty were already committed to other jobs.

A skydive company staffer had to drive the vehicle as both St John crew were attending to the injured man in the back.

At the time, the Otago Daily Times was told it’s not unusual for fire volunteers or police to drive ambulances if patients are critically injured.

In a statement, Ministry of Health’s ambulance services boss Jon Leach says it has provided advice to the government about funding arrangements for road ambulances.

“Funding of ambulance services is done at a national level and how providers deploy those resources is an operational matter for them.”

louises@scene.co.nz