There were only two doctors working at the Defqon 1 festival in Sydney last year. (Facebook: Defqon. 1 Festival Australia)
There is a “lack of willingness” within the music festival industry to pay for expensive onsite medical services, a NSW inquest has heard.
- The head of EMS Medical Services says he often felt nervous working at music festivals
- EMS has been previously criticised for inadequate staffing and unqualified doctors at last year’s Defqon 1 event
- The inquest is investigating six deaths over two years at music festivals across NSW
The coroner is investigating six deaths over two years at music festivals across the state which prompted a Government crackdown on festival regulations.
Five of the young people who died received care from EMS Medical Services — a company which uses contractors to provide medical tents at many large festivals.
EMS chief executive Mike Hammond said prior to the string of fatalities, his company would make recommendations to the event promoter about required staffing levels.
He said staff qualifications always influenced the cost and admitted a promoter could reject its recommendations or request changes.
Mr Hammond said there were times when he felt nervous going into an event as promoters did not want to pay for expensive care.
Under questioning by a lawyer for the Australia Festivals Association, Mr Hammond said if reductions to medical staffing were requested by promoters, EMS would normally “stick to our guns”.
“We wouldn’t not do a job because they wouldn’t pay for it,” he said. “In some cases we would fund the additional staff.”
Mr Hammond said this would mean the company took a profit cut so medical plans were not compromised.
Company protocols have since been overhauled and if a promoter does not agree with the recommendations, EMS will not take on the job.
EMS has been heavily criticised by previous witnesses at the inquest who believed staffing levels were inadequate, doctors were underqualified and there was an absence of leadership in medical tents.
Mr Hammond was grilled about last year’s Defqon 1 festival where Joseph Pham and Diana Nguyen died after arriving within minutes of one another in the medical tent.
They were both suffering adverse reactions to drugs.
The court has previously heard one of only two doctors working at Defqon 1 made two requests to Mr Hammond that Mr Pham be transferred to hospital, recognising he was showing signs of MDMA toxicity and required urgent treatment.
But Mr Pham, 23, was not put in an ambulance until nearly an hour after he arrived at the tent.
Mr Hammond said he requested the booking when he was first asked.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it was extremely urgent,” he said.
“I didn’t inquire as to the urgency, I just booked the ambulance.”
The perceived lack of leadership in the medical tent at Defqon 1 has previously been slammed by a NSW Ambulance intensive care paramedic as “abhorrent”.
Asked whether he was “disappointed” with the care given to Mr Pham and Ms Nguyen, Mr Hammond said it was “the best we could do with what we had”.
The inquest continues.