The scene of a fatal car accident north of the Harwood Bridge on Saturday.
The scene of a fatal car accident north of the Harwood Bridge on Saturday. Adam Hourigan

Was slow chopper response fatal?

FRUSTRATED paramedics have slammed the NSW Ambulance Service for cutting corners on its emergency response protocols following a poor response to two serious car crashes on the region's major black spot stretch at the weekend.

On Saturday, a 48-year-old Murwillumbah man died en route to Lismore Base Hospital after he was trapped in his vehicle following a five-car crash on the Pacific Hwy at Maclean at 9.55am.

The ambulance dispatch tasked the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter to the crash 30 minutes after it happened, despite having the option of requesting the Lismore-based aircraft when the initial 000 call was received.

The helicopter can only respond to incidents under the direction of the NSW Ambulance Service.

A road ambulance loaded the critical crash victim and met the helicopter about 12 minutes later on the Pacific Hwy at Tabbimoble.

The man had a cardiac arrest and died as he was being airlifted to hospital.

A local paramedic, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said the NSW Ambulance Service's own trauma-patient protocol relating to helicopter operations allowed the dispatcher to task the helicopter to an incident without waiting for a report from paramedics on the scene.

Another paramedic said if the helicopter had responded immediately the victim could have been loaded straight away and the outcome might have been very different.

Barely 24 hours later on the same notorious stretch of highway, it is understood the ambulance control centre refused two requests for helicopter assistance to a high-speed crash involving seven people at Tabbimoble.

After having an initial request for the helicopter denied while en route to the accident, a responding paramedic asked a second time, noting the criteria for immediate helicopter response - multiple injuries, distance from a major trauma centre and isolated location - but was again denied.

A young girl involved in the accident suffered similar abdominal injuries to the man who died at the Maclean crash.

She was rushed to Lismore Base Hospital where she remained yesterday in a serious but stable condition.

The helicopter was eventually tasked but later cancelled.

"The ambulance control was within the protocol to dispatch the helicopter without a report from the scene," one paramedic said.

Operational staff at the NSW Ambulance Service were unavailable to provide a detailed response yesterday.



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