St John forced to withdraw service

St John Ambulance has been forced to reduce its Central Province operations awaiting release of funds from the National Government and a funding agreement with Central Province Administration.

This decision was reached by the National St John Council following delay by the National Government to release its funding allocation.

The delay in funding has the potential to threaten the bulk of the one million people in NCD and Central province who rely on St John’s free emergency services.

The Government, in this year’s budget, has allocated K10 million for St John Ambulance.

The Chairman of the National St John Council is now asking the National Department of Planning & Monitoring to release the funding as soon as possible.

Speaking on behalf of the National Council, Chairman Madam Jean Kekedo said: “The council appreciates the commitment by the Minister for Health and HIV/AIDS, Sir Dr Puka Temu, last year to include St John Ambulance in this year’s budget, but we need the first quarter funds to be released immediately by the Department of Planning and Monitoring, to sustain the ambulance operations. As we enter the second quarter of 2019 that’s about K5 million.

“We know the Minister is pushing this matter, but it seems bureaucrats within the departments are not responding to requests to release the funds.

“We have already reduced our services to Central Province in February as the funding is not released.

“Until this situation with funding is resolved, I have reluctantly directed our Chief Executive to focus our efforts on corporate fee-paying customers including members of the ambulance service scheme. This has been no easy decision; we know about one million people rely on our services, and the Gerehu and Port Moresby General Hospital need St John to perform thousands of transfers and urgent referrals each year.

“Our priority needs to be our sustainability,” Kekedo stressed.

“St John has remained operational in the last seven or so months because of donor support from businesses and community but it comes to a point that this is not sustainable”

The delay in funding will strangle St John’s already choking free public services, which heavily relies on cost based commercial services it provides.

The commercial and fee-based services are unaffected and will continue to operate to their normal high quality, and these include Paramedic-led Aeromedical Services and the Ambulance Membership scheme, relied upon by key corporates bodies and embassies, as well as Commercial First Aid Training and Event Ambulance Services - like the SP Hunters games.

“The last thing we want to do is restrict the ambulance service to those that need us most.

“There has been a 110 percent increase in calls for ambulance help. From 3,500 calls in 2017 to 8,000 in 2018, and even more this year. Just in the first two months, St John has already received and responded to a total of 1,500 calls.

“The fact is we must be properly funded by the National Government and on time.

“There is only so long a period of time that we can carry the burden of underfunding through fundraising. Real people rely on the services our organisation provides; you only have to watch ten minutes of Green Angels to realise the tremendous work our people do in the community, every day, twenty-four-hours.”

Kekedo said unlike other government agencies, they cannot just stop services – lives count on them.

She stressed that one missed phone call for help could be one life lost.

“St John is a statutory charity organisation and we have a responsibility to the people of Papua New Guinea to provide quality and timely pre-hospital care, no matter who they are or where they are.

“The funding delay will also put on hold St John’s plans to expand the ambulance services to other provinces like Morobe.

“The St John Ambulance Emergency Coordination Centre in Port Moresby has received many calls throughout Papua New Guinea but unfortunately couldn’t attend to, because the service is only in Port Moresby and Central Province.

“All the great media about the fantastic work by St John Ambulance, is seeing more people, counting on our ambulance and paramedics, and across the country more people are yearning, for this life saving emergency service.

“About 20 percent of the work St John Ambulance does is attending to child birthing emergencies, where the greatest impact is mostly in Central Province.”

This year St John plans to expand the ambulance service to two major regional centres.

“We are committed to working with the honourable minister, but we need other department secretaries to understand that St John needs to be given appropriate prioritisation when releasing funds; our people’s lives depend on it,” said Kekedo.

(Picture: St John Facebook page)

About St John

St John is a statutory body operating in accordance with the St John Council Incorporation Act of 1976.

St John promotes and builds a strong, resilient and healthy Papua New Guinea community by providing and coordinating:

• Ambulance Services (24 hours)

• Aeromedical Retrieval services

• Community (Komuniti) health education programs

• First aid at events

• Commercial first aid programs

• First aid kits and consumables

Injury and illness can strike at anytime and anywhere; the emergency ambulance service plays a vital role in saving lives.

The purpose of the ambulance service is providing initial life medical treatment at the scene of an incident. When the patient needs treatment at hospital, St John’s role is transporting him or her from the scene to the appropriate hospital or health facility of his/her choosing, in the areas of Papua New Guinea that St John operates.

Each year St John assist around 10,000 people for a range of medical conditions. The number of calls we are getting to help is outstripping our availability. We need extra support from the government and community to make sure these calls can continue to be answered.

Press release