NSW government launches inquiry into emergency call tragedy

The NSW government has today launched an independent investigation into a new ambulance telephone call system amid indications a system problem caused an emergency response failure yesterday.NSW Premier, Bob Carr, said today an inquiry would be held into the AU$350,000 system, designed by Integ Communications for the state Ambulance Service, following an incident in which emergency calls went unanswered and a woman died at Northmead.

The NSW government has today launched an independent investigation into a new ambulance telephone call system amid indications a system problem caused an emergency response failure yesterday.

NSW Premier, Bob Carr, said today an inquiry would be held into the AU$350,000 system, designed by Integ Communications for the state Ambulance Service, following an incident in which emergency calls went unanswered and a woman died at Northmead.

The system -- designed to reduce response times -- was installed last week.

The inquiry is being run by expert Gerard Cusack, who headed an inquiry for the Victorian Department of Justice into emergency triple-0 services. It will examine:

  • the access of the new system to receive 000 calls for a period of time on Wednesday 13 October;

  • the effectiveness of back-up systems for emergency calls not answered by the Sydney Operations Centre and;

  • the ability of the new system to operate in conjunction with other emergency services such as the police and fire brigade.

The government said in a statement the new system allowed call centre operators to see the address of a caller on a screen, "saving valuable seconds or minutes in response times.

"Because the caller address appears automatically on the computer screen, the possibility of human error in taking the address is also reduced.

"The new system allows calls to be answered and made via a computer screen and combines the PABX, call line identification and telephone of the old system into one unit".

The government said the previous system had been in place for five years.

Training of operators had been under way for six months prior to installation of the new system last Thursday.

"In the event of a failure of the system at any one of the four ambulance call centres, 000 calls divert to the other call centres [at Eveleigh, Warilla, Charlestown and Dubbo]," the government said.

"The Ambulance Service advises that on Wednesday 13 October, 41 calls were diverted to the Warilla Call Centre during a 45 minute period while problems were being experienced at Eveleigh.

"They have further advised that full restoration of the telephone system has now been achieved".