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Tender opposition at heart of ambulance service wrangle

THE future of a privately owned ambulance service run in competition to St John Ambulance is looking grim due to the WA Govern-ment’s opposition to competitive tendering.

Advance Life Ambulance Service was formed to tender for inter-hospital patient transfer contracts. It transports about 2,000 patients each year.

The company secured 75 per cent of the three-year Royal Flying Doctor Service contract to transfer patients from Jandakot Airport to Perth hospitals and has two year-long extension options.

The contract has now expired and the Department of Health is seeking legal advice regarding the status of the extension options.

Department of Health executive general manager public health and purchasing John Kirwan said he hoped to have the options question answered by the end of October.

“If we decided to do something other than renewing the contract as it stands or going to tender, we will sit down with Advance Life and St John Ambulance,” Mr Kirwan said.

“We’ve made it clear to Advance Life that we have had no problems with their services.

“Our policy is the same as that of the Government’s. We are opposed to competitive tendering.”

The former WA Government opened up inter-hospital patient transfers to competitive tender but left emergency response in the hands of St John Ambulance, which has been providing ambu-lance services in WA since 1883.

Advance Life CEO and founder Peter Draper conceded the loss of the RFDS contract could force his company out of business.

“We started off as an emergency patient transfer system. The idea was it would leave the St John Ambulance in town where it was needed,” Mr Draper said.

“We now do an amount of

first-response work for industry and others that know about

us throughout the Kwinana

industrial strip and up as far as Leeming.

“We’ve even had a contact from one hospital that wanted to use our services but couldn’t because HBF refuses to honour all of our accounts.

“But all health insurers honour our accounts to some degree. We are a service provider to Medibank Private. I believe the health insurance industry would like more competition in the ambu-lance services sector.”

WA’s largest health insurer, HBF, would not comment as to whether extra competition in the ambulance sector would be a benefit.

HBF public affairs manager John Le Cras said the company had a good relationship with

St John Ambulance.

“We run their membership fund,” Mr Le Cras said.

A spokeswoman for SGIO said it believed quality of service to customers was a priority.

“If competition helped to improve that service we would be supportive of it,” she said.

“But 80 per cent of our costs are hospital and medical costs.”

Mr Draper said he had even offered the Health Department a service to return country patients to country hospitals once they were fit for ambulance travel.

“At the moment these people are waiting for two weeks in hospital beds before they are fit enough to take public transport back home,” he said.

Mr Draper said it cost about $100,000 to put an ambulance on the road.

“If St Johns was not receiving $12.5 million from the Govern-ment they could not compete with us on a level playing field,” he said. “That money allows them to undercut us by nearly 100 per cent.”

Besides its Government funding, St John Ambulance receives grants from the Lotteries Commission and revenue from its other services such as training, selling paramedic and first aid equipment and even selling ambulances.

St John Ambulance ambulance service director Bob Barker said its policy was that ambulance services should not be privatised.

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