A woman suffered a deadly heart attack at Busselton Health Campus after being forced to wait several hours for care, with an investigation now underway by the Health Department. In what could be the deadliest case of ambulance ramping — where paramedics must continue to care for patients outside hospital wards because there are no beds to admit them — the woman in her 70s is understood to have been taken to the South West hospital with back pain about 1pm on Tuesday. She is believed to have been admitted into hospital about 4pm after her condition deteriorated. The woman was pronounced dead about 5pm from a suspected heart attack. The Health Department has started a probe into the death to clarify how long she was in the ambulance before being rushed into the hospital and whose watch she deteriorated under. Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said she had ordered a “thorough and detailed investigation” into the matter, adding that her deepest sympathies were with the family. WACHS chief executive Jeff Moffet said he was aware of a “sudden death” at the Busselton Health Campus. “Preliminary information indicates the patient was brought into the emergency department upon arrival and sadly passed later that afternoon,” Mr Moffet said. “I feel deeply for the patient’s family — while we will never be able to replace their loss, it’s important we work with St John WA to fully investigate the situation.” Mr Moffet said WACHS intended to communicate “openly and transparently” with the family and had spoken to them to express its sincere condolences. “Staff at Busselton Health Campus are also feeling this deeply — they are absolutely dedicated to caring for their community and are devastated to have lost a patient,” he said. “We will continue to support them throughout this process.” St John WA has been contacted for comment. The death comes amid strong criticism from the Opposition that the McGowan Government had not been doing enough to tackle the ever-growing ambulance ramping crisis in WA — an issue it campaigned to fix in opposition. Ambulance ramping last month soared to near-record levels, with paramedics spending more than 5639 hours waiting to transfer patients into the care of the hospitals. It was the second-worst month for ramping in WA’s history, following the 6525 hours recorded in August last year. Ramping has progressively worsened since the McGowan Government came to power – despite former Health Minister Roger Cook labelling 1000 hours of ramping a “crisis” when in opposition in 2017. Paramedics spent 979 hours ramped outside hospitals in March 2018, 1960 hours in March 2020 – at the start of the pandemic – and 4104 hours on the ramp in March 2021. Wednesday’s tragic death comes against the backdrop of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into ambulance services, which may recommend tearing up the government’s contract with St John WA and bringing the service in-house — as is the case in every other State. Questions have been raised over the impartiality of the Labor-dominated inquiry, which is chaired by Upper House MP Pierre Yang. Mr Yang is backed by the United Workers Union, which counts some paramedics among its members and has long championed bringing ambulance services within the public sector. The inquiry was due to table its report last month but has so far failed to do so. The McGowan Government is also currently engaged in contract negotiations with St John WA, with the current deal set to expire in June. As revealed by The West, in late 2020 the McGowan Government agreed to begin paying St John WA a penalty for every hour ambulances spend on the ramp. The hourly figure is reportedly $350 and kicks in once 10,000 hours have been exceeded in any given year. On the day the woman died, the average triage wait time at Busselton Hospital was 107 minutes. There were 37 patients who presented to the emergency department, seven of whom were admitted to hospital. Only 47 per cent of the patients were accepted by the hospital within 30 minutes. Six of the patients arrived via ambulance. Shadow health minister Libby Mettam said the incident was an avoidable tragedy. “It is completely unacceptable that patients’ lives continue being put at risk while waiting to receive critical and essential care in our hospitals,” Ms Mettam said. “This is a tragedy that was avoidable, and that the Government had been warned would occur. “There is simply no excuse for the health system to deliver such poor outcomes, our hearts go out to the family, first responders and health workers who were involved.” Dr Duncan-Smith said his thoughts went out to the patient’s family and highlighted that ambulance ramping was a symptom of a very busy emergency department and overrun hospitals. He hoped the McGowan Government would address the issue in the health budget next month. “Our hospitals are running at 100 per cent occupancy, but the optimal rate is about 85 per cent,” Dr Duncan-Smith said. “You need to increase capacity of the system … hospitals are full, patients can’t get out of emergency departments (and when) emergency departments get full, patients can’t get out of ambulances.” Dr Duncan-Smith said the number of hospital beds in WA was still “inadequate”. He said when Fiona Stanley Hospital opened with 500 new beds, there was actually no increase to the total beds in the system because some had been shut. “What they (the Health Department)are doing now is reopening beds that in our opinion, should never have been shut,” he claimed. Other hospitals in the South West at Bunbury and Margaret River have also been battling chronic staffing shortages. Bunbury Hospital, the biggest regional health campus in the State, has until September this year to improve working conditions for its staff after being issued a scathing notice from WorkSafe. The notice highlighted that there was a workers’ compensation claim was made every six weeks for two years at Bunbury Hospital, with staff blaming bullying and aggression from patients as key contributing factors. The West Australian last year published a leaked report following the death of “healthy” mother Melody Taripe in childbirth. The report found hospital staff would not recommend their family to the hospital for treatment. A separate report into Bunbury Hospital from the Australian Medical Association found the working environment was so poor, it had directly impacted on clinical outcomes. Doctors also said they were “gagged” from speaking about the hospital. One doctor interviewed said the treatment from medical administration staff was “abhorrent — varying from casually unpleasant to outright bullying”.