This came as a comment on an earlier post – Paying for ambulance services (October 4, 2014):
We are in dispute with St John Ambulance service in WA (SJA) regarding an ambulance bill that we received for ambulance attendance at a skating rink where my wife had fallen over and hit her head momentarily passing out. The management called an ambulance despite my wife stating that she was OK and just needed to sit off and recover with a “cup of tea”. When the ambulance arrived the officers assessed my wife and agreed that transport to hospital was not needed. A subsequent bill for $541 took us by surprise as my wife had clearly communicated that she did not consider the call out necessary.
I note that a very similar circumstance of “Treatment without Transport” was investigated by the Victorian Ombudsman in 2019 (ref https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/our-impact/investigation-reports/investigation-of-a-complaint-about-ambulance-victoria/#full-report). The outcome resulted in Ambulance Victoria making significant changes to the way they manage and charge for “Treatment without Transport” cases.
This action by SJA grates as being unfair and unjust. To me the action offends consumer principles of consent and fairness as identified and highlighted in the Victorian Ombudsman investigation. The WA Ombudsman will not similarly investigate in WA because SJA is a private organisation and thus outside their jurisdiction.
I do not know of the law or authority that enables SJA to levy such charges in WA when the action offends basic consumer principles.
For a discussion on the Ombudsman’s report into Ambulance Victoria see Ombudsman investigates Ambulance Victoria’s practice of charging for non-transport services (June 13, 2019). In a comment to that post I said:
I don’t actually understand how St John (WA) can charge like other ambulance services. As I’ve noted in earlier posts in jurisdictions other than WA and NT the authority to render a fee to a person who did not request the service and was not advised, in advance, is found in legislation. In the absence of legislation in WA (and NT) it has to be standard commercial principles. One can charge for a service provided but in particular for cases where there is no transport and just some ‘on scene’ assessment I would have thought St John (WA) would or should have great difficulty in enforcing their claim for payment.
It may be that jurisdictional ambulance services are not operating in trade and commerce, but St John (WA) must be as they provide the emergency service ambulance under a fee-paying agreement with the government of Western Australia. There is no ambulance serviced legislation to justify or authorise their fees nor can I see any relevant provision in the Health Services Act 2016 (WA). Neither St John (WA) nor the WA Health Department give any authority for the payment of fees where these have not been consented to in advance.
One might argue that in this case the patient accepted the service, but one can imagine there is a power imbalance. People don’t want to be rude to paramedics and it’s probably easier to say ‘sure do what you need to do to satisfy yourself’ if you don’t realise that a fee is going to be charged.
My correspondent says ‘I do not know of the law or authority that enables SJA to levy such charges in WA’ and to be honest neither do I. This is not a place for legal advice so my correspondent would be advised to see a Perth lawyer but the basic principle is that if St John (WA) want to pursue the debt they need to prove that it is owed. If my correspondent (or someone in a similar position) wants to test it, let them commence proceedings and then raise these very arguments and see what authority they rely on.
The WA Government are requesting submissions into the West Australian Ambulance delivery model.
Submissions are due on 23 July 2021 4pm, and you can write your submission by following this link Committee Details – Inquiry (parliament.wa.gov.au).
I am sure they would be interested in your experience with the organisation.