Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority Report: Grieving Families Demand Answers

Valerie Fitzell, 83, lit a candle on Sunday to commemorate her son Allan, who died on January 5 this year at the age of 52 from a heart attack he had while showering. Allan lived with his family in a trailer park in Geelong. About 32 minutes passed between the family’s first attempt to call triple zero and when an ambulance arrived. Meanwhile, Allan was unconscious in a cabin bathroom.

Valerie Fitzell, 83, mourns the loss of her son Allan, who died aged 52 in May.

Valerie Fitzell, 83, mourns the loss of her son Allan, who died aged 52 in May. Credit:chris hopkins

“Her partner couldn’t get through to those answering the calls, trying over and over again. In the meantime, they had to take the door off the bathroom, her 18-year-old son was trying to do CPR,” Valerie said.

“The girl I was talking to kept apologizing and saying, ‘I can’t communicate [to ambulance dispatch]I’ve tried, sorry.’”

A letter seen by Age from Ambulance Victoria to the family states that Telstra received an initial call at 6:20 pm and the transfer delay to ESTA was 6 minutes and 56 seconds. The letter says that an ambulance arrived at the scene at 6:38 p.m.

But the Fitzell family said they also tried calling triple zero multiple times without success before the final connection, meaning the delay was longer than the 18-minute window Ambulance Victoria described.

Finally, two fire trucks and an ambulance arrived and Allan was taken to Geelong Hospital, where he was stabilized. But within hours, Valerie got the call to go from her home in Melbourne to Geelong.

“They said, ‘He doesn’t have long to live.’ I went in there and sat with him for about three or four hours and he passed away,” she said. Doctors told Valerie’s family weeks later that Allan could have been saved if she had helped get there sooner.

“It was so sad. I asked them why this happened and the doctor said ‘because he was without oxygen for too long,’” she said.

Although the ESTA report does not detail individual cases, both Gary Shulkes and Allan Fitzell died within the time period under the report’s scrutiny.

Golda and Valerie said they were distraught and angry at the state government for the deaths of their loved ones and others detailed in the report.

“There are too many of us,” Valerie said. “Wait [Premier] Dan Andrews had a good day with his kids for Father’s Day.”

She said Allan’s children and wife planned to buy a mug of beer to sit in an empty seat at the pub table on Sunday night to remember him on their first Father’s Day without him.

“He was a very funny son of a bitch. He was kind, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He made anyone laugh with the things he did,” he said. “He liked to dance and sing, a very happy guy.”

Charging

Golda and her two adult daughters were also grieving on Sunday. The widow said the state of the health system was a “disgrace” and sick Victorians needed to know they could call an ambulance and get an answer.

“The worst thing is that I have lost a wonderful man,” Golda said. “A kind and humane person, a person who loved to read, talk about history. He loved movies, he loved people. A nice person. A generous person, a true gentleman.”

Deputy Prime Minister Jacinta Allan on Sunday defended Daniel Andrews’s absence from addressing the report, saying it was “standard” for the relevant minister to address the issues.

Allan said Victoria’s triple-zero paramedics, nurses and receptionists had been “working under unprecedented pressure” and said “today’s ESTA is not the ESTA of six months ago.”

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the families of the 33 Victorians who have died “deserve a response” from the Prime Minister.

“The entire system may need to be overhauled. Do whatever it takes to fix the crisis in our health service, from answering ambulance calls to getting an emergency room bed.”

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