Every day Hato Hone St John receives around 1,500 emergency 111 calls. A small number of those calls are from people who need medical help, but for whom an ambulance is not the best treatment. We have a better way to help those people.

St John has registered nurses and paramedics sitting in our Clinical Communications Centres. Their job is to carry out detailed clinical assessments over the phone and give advice.

That could include helping to arrange a visit to the GP,  a local Accident and Medical or Urgent Care centre. The best treatment might be to stay home and rest with some advice, ensuring you know to call us back if anything changes.  

It’s an international system that has also been proven to work in New Zealand.  


What will happen when I call 111?

St John connects patients to the right care at the right time. 111 callers who appear to have low acuity issues, are advised that an ambulance isn’t being sent and that they will be called back by a registered nurse (from Homecare Medical Limited) or a St John Paramedic.

They then use a process called ‘triage’ that helps better understand the nature and severity of the patient’s condition and to determine what the best help is for you.. They ask a brief series of well-structured questions to clarify the patient’s symptoms. Then they establish the best way to get the patient to the right level of care, with the right provider, in the right place, at the right time. 

This approach - having qualified medical professionals triage low acuity calls - is used extensively and successfully internationally.

So if it turns out that an ambulance is the best option, one will be sent?

Yes, if it turns out based on their assessment an ambulance is the best option;  an ambulance will be sent. 

Do you have a real-life example of how this improvement is working already?

Donna Bouzaid recently rang 111 for an ambulance when her partner Chris McDermott had severe stomach pain. She was told a nurse would call her back with instructions on how she could help her partner. The nurse called and spoke to her, later speaking to Chris on a speakerphone about pain management. Both Chris and Donna were happy with the efficient way in which their call was handled and very appreciative of the advice given by the nurse during their incident.

"It was like having a little angel at the end of the phone," Donna said.

How do St John staff decide whether a call is an emergency requiring an ambulance or not?

If you phone for something urgent or potentially life-threatening, our emergency medical dispatchers will arrange an ambulance for you straight away.

If you call for something that suggests you are not in immediate danger, you may be phoned back by a registered nurse or paramedic who will ask you further questions to determine the best care for you. This may include self-care, referral to a GP, referral to a private Accident and Medical centre, or may involve St John responding with an ambulance or alternative vehicle to treat the patient, with/without transporting them to a hospital emergency department.

But I’ve called 111 … surely that means an ambulance should be sent?

If you need an ambulance, we will get one to you as soon as possible. If you don’t need an ambulance, we will provide information or advice on what the best care is for you. 

I’m a St John Supporter Scheme subscriber – shouldn’t I automatically be sent an ambulance if I call 111?

When you call 111 Hato Hone St John will assess your emergency and help find the best care for you. The best care for you may not be an ambulance. The main benefit of our supporter scheme is that if you do require an ambulance you will not have to pay the standard part charge. 

Our supporters make a valuable contribution to the services St. John provides to the community and we thank you for this ongoing support. 

I’ve got a St John Medical Alarm – what does this mean for me?

When you push your medical alarm you’ll receive the right help for you. In some cases this may mean an ambulance, a paramedic in a smaller vehicle or expert advice over the phone.

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