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Ambulance response time blowout confirms strain on health system

Ambulance response time blowout confirms strain on
Photo: Ambulance response times
Ambulance Victoria’s (AV) quarterly performance data confirms that increased demand for ambulance services is having an effect ambulance response times in Victoria.

From 1 October 2020 to 31 December 2020, only 79.3% of Code 1 cases had an ambulance arrive within the 15-minute response time target (down from 82.3% in the previous quarter).

This means that one in five patients did not receive an ambulance on time.

Code 1 cases are life threatening emergencies where ambulances are required to travel with lights and sirens activated. These cases may include cardiac arrests, heart attacks, strokes, and serious car accidents. These are patients who cannot afford to wait more than 15 minutes for an ambulance.

Average response times in many Local Government Areas (LGA) to Code 1 cases have increased including Corangamite (increased from 15:31 to 17:34), South Gippsland (increased from 17:18 to 18:06), Queenscliff (increased from 14:51 to 17:10) and Mansfield (increased from 17:38 to 25:24).
The easing of COVID19 restrictions has clearly increased demand on ambulance services as well as emergency departments. This leads to ambulance crews being ramped at hospitals with their patients and unable to respond to other emergencies.

Almost every LGA in Victoria has seen an increase in the total number of Code 1 responses to cases compared to the previous quarter. For example there were: 

  • 529 more responses in the Mornington Peninsula LGA.
  • 223 more responses in the Ballarat LGA.
  • 459 more responses in Hume LGA
  • 470 more responses in Greater Geelong LGA
  • 416 more responses in Melton LGA
     
With much of the health system still at COVID19 settings, too many people are entering the healthcare system through the ambulance service and emergency departments rather than through their General Practitioner, and the system is not coping. With COVID19 risk easing it is important that people return to regular appointments with their family doctor and ensure they are taking a proactive approach with their healthcare.

The increased workload is having a massive effect on the morale of paramedics and ambulance workers. Crews are regularly forced to work without meal breaks and late cases mean that they can end up working 4-5 hours beyond their rostered finish time.

We are seeing members at the point of exhaustion and sick leave is at an all-time high. Dropped shifts are a common occurrence across Victoria, further exacerbating the resourcing gaps.

On Saturday night there were no Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) Paramedics available to fill their shifts in the Metropolitan West Region. This means the highest acuity patients risk being unable to receive intensive care treatment.

Recent investment by the Andrews Government is a positive start but we risk an ambulance crisis if we don’t get patients back into seeing their GP, attending regular appointments and looking after their health.

We want to avoid people needing to call an ambulance or turning up to an emergency department.

Quotes attributable to Danny Hill – Secretary of Victorian Ambulance Union (VAU)

“On all indicators, the ambulance service is struggling. Hospital ramping, resource gaps, response times, unstaffed MICA ambulances, regular escalations to Code Orange or Code Red, all point to a very dangerous situation”.

“Morale amongst paramedics and ambulance workers has hit rock bottom. They are exhausted. COVID19 was a very difficult time but they have emerged from that challenge straight into the next. There is no downtime, they are regularly missing meal breaks and are working dangerous amounts of incidental overtime”.

“Its important for the public to remember that ambulances are for emergencies. They are not a taxi service. If you have a life-threatening emergency, you should call an ambulance. But when people call for non-urgent problems, it can lead to crews not being available to respond to patients who really need paramedics help”.

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