Much loved Aussie mum dies after waiting in excruciating pain for ambulance that never came

By Olivia Day For Daily Mail Australia

22:39 21 Jan 2024, updated 23:09 21 Jan 2024

The family of a woman who died in ‘excruciating pain’ waiting for an ambulance that never came has called for urgent changes to the state-run service. 

Betty Dobson was at her home in Adelaide, just 2km from an ambulance station, when she started to experience crippling pain in February 2023. 

She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the previous November and had undergone chemotherapy and radiation as part of her treatment plan.

Her husband called an ambulance, but after two hours of waiting for it to arrive he was forced to take matters into his own hands, The Advertiser reports. 

‘I re-called them and they said… not only was there not (an ambulance) on the way, but she couldn’t tell me when there would be one available,’ Mr Dobson said. 

Betty Dobson (pictured) was at her home in Adelaide, just 2km from an ambulance station, when she started to experience ‘excruciating’ pain in February 2023

Mr Dobson said it took ‘a lot of trouble, a lot of pain’ to put his wife of 50 years into a small car before the drove her to Noarlunga Hospital himself. 

Staff at the hospital who had been waiting for Ms Dobson to arrive sprung into action and performed scans on her bowel and put her on pain medication. 

A surgeon told the family their loved one would likely not survive surgery and advised she be placed in palliative care. 

Ms Dobson died the following day.

Her husband said the only reason he had called an ambulance was so his wife could be provided with immediate relief for her ‘excruciating pain’. 

Mr Dobson and his daughter Julie have now called for changes to the ambulance service, which would see callers given an estimated wait time. 

‘She still would have died but the night before, she wouldn’t have been in pain as much had there been a different outcome,’ Ms Dobson said of her mum. 

An SAAS spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia: ‘This case was triaged as a Priority 3, and the call was cancelled 22 minutes later at the caller’s request, as we were unable to give a definite timeframe.

‘Call backs are standard practice and have been in place for many years. Every effort is made to keep patients informed where delays are occurring. This is sometimes achieved when patients call us back, as in this case.

‘It is not uncommon for patients to consider self-transport after discussions with our Emergency Operations Centre staff. Where patients raise a concern about their call or care, every case is reviewed.’

A 54-year-old man in Adelaide’s northeast died in December after waiting for over 10 hours

Meanwhile, a 54-year-old man in Adelaide’s northeast died on December 27 after waiting for more than 10 hours for an ambulance. 

The man had called the ambulance after he started to experience excruciating abdominal pain which caused him to vomit. 

He was initially listed as a low priority case requiring an ambulance to arrive on scene within the hour but paramedics were delayed by ramping at hospitals. 

That night, a Code White was declared for emergency departments across Adelaide, meaning all treatment rooms were being used. 

During the third and final call to emergency services the man’s condition was listed as category one – a top priority case with an ambulance arriving in four minutes but he was unable to be saved.

It comes as taxis are being sent to thousands of emergency callers instead of ambulances due to a chronic health service crisis in South Australia. 

The state’s ambulance service transported more than 4,000 patients in taxis between January 2021 and April last year due a major ramping issue.

Ramping occurs when ambulances are not able to transfer patients straight to emergency departments at hospitals because they are operating at capacity, meaning they can no longer take any patients in.

Taxis are being sent to thousands of emergency callers in the place of ambulances (pictured)
The state ambulance service said taxis are not used to for patients in need of critical care

Up to 36 patients in need of non-urgent care were transported via taxis on average per week so paramedics could attend emergencies, costing more than $120,000.

A SAAS spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia in a statement that taxis are not used to replace ambulances to provide critical care. 

‘Instead, they are on occasion provided to patients who have received clinical assessment from a specialist paramedic and require transportation to access healthcare but do not require an emergency ambulance response,’ they said.

‘Ambulance dispatch is based on the urgency and severity of the medical situation, prioritised to ensure those with the most urgent needs receive an emergency response first.’

The SAAS said its committed to improving ambulance wait times and has bolstered it’s capacity to respond to emergencies by employing another 171 paramedics. 

A government spokesperson said Premier Peter Malinauskas had made a record investment in the state’s ambulance service with the addition of 36 new ambulances, 350 ambos, and 10 brand new stations across the state. 

‘We are also opening 150 additional hospital beds this year, with more to come online in 2025, to ensure more capacity in our hospitals and freeing up ambulance resources to respond to community needs,’ the spokespersons said. 

READ MORE: Man dies in pain after waiting more than 10 hours for an ambulance in Adelaide

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