State Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell has called on Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley to improve ambulance response times and overcome ramping at hospital emergency departments.
Ms Maxwell recently told Parliament she did “not expect to be happily surprised” by the latest ambulance response time data for the April-June quarter.
It shows average response times to code one call-outs, compared with a year ago, increased two minutes in Mitchell, Alpine, Campaspe and Hepburn shires, one minute in Benalla, almost four minutes in Loddon, and four-and-a-half minutes in Mansfield, while there were improvements in Gannawarra and Indigo – all areas under the spotlight in the past year.
Ms Maxwell said the practice of ambulance ramping, which occurs when hospital emergency departments are extremely busy and instruct paramedics to keep a patient on board until given the go-ahead to deliver them, was also affecting patient care.
“The July report of a patient with a spinal injury who was in a corridor at Sunshine Hospital for 14 hours is simply despairing,” she said.
“This patient was ramped outside the hospital for hours and then waited and waited for a bed. The Victorian Ambulance Union reports that patients are regularly waiting for 12 hours in ambulances outside hospitals or being treated by paramedics in corridors while they wait.
“I have spoken numerous times in this Parliament about the pressure on ambulance services in northern Victoria, including a very sad, recent case in my electorate where an aged-care resident waited 90 minutes for an ambulance, a delay which was attributed directly to hospital ramping.
“These bottlenecks are placing enormous strain on our health workforce. Speaking with healthcare workers, they tell me of the challenges of staff shortages and trying to find ways to discharge more patients safely to free up beds.
“They do an incredible job in an already pressured environment. The Australian Medical Association warned in July that our hospital systems cannot cope with a flu epidemic, let alone a COVID epidemic, in what was described as an ‘acute public health disaster’.
“Yet the point of Victoria’s first lockdown early last year was to prepare our health system to cope, and 18 months later we seem to be in no better position.”
The Victorian Government is investing $759 million to fund a range of initiatives across emergency departments, hospitals and ambulance services, tailored to the particular needs of each service.
As part of the boost, the 2021-22 Victorian Budget includes $266 million to support Ambulance Victoria with additional paramedics, expanded secondary triage services and more non-emergency transport capacity.
Another $204.3 million will bolster Ambulance Victoria’s resources through programs like Telehealth and will deliver ongoing operational improvements across the state.
Ms Maxwell said ramping was not isolated to state hospitals or Victoria.
“The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has called for a whole-health system approach across both state and federal governments, including utilising general practice and community health,” she said.
“Other states, such as Tasmania, are rolling out policy to take pressure off emergency departments with extended care centres through general practices extending hours and weekend operation.
“I expect such a prospect would be welcome in many regional centres also, if you could indeed resource them, given the wait time to see a GP.
“I thank our healthcare workers, and I encourage the government to share with our communities what work they are doing in Victoria and with other levels of government to address these concerns.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said the pandemic had had a lasting impact on health systems across the country, including increased demand on ambulance services.
“That’s why we are investing more than $759 million to get more ambulances on the road, expand our healthcare workforce, open more beds and improve flow through our emergency departments,” the spokesperson said.
“This will help Victoria recover faster and ensure our community continues to get the care they deserve.
“We continue to work closely with our health and ambulance services to identify where the need is most so we can target initiatives to address the demand and ensure they are supported for the extraordinary work they do to keep Victorians safe.”