Victoria’s health system will be boosted by $307 million to free up capacity for hospitals and paramedics, as they deal with significant pressure due to a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Health Minister Martin Foley warns “the worst is yet to come” for the state’s hospital and ambulance workers, as they brace for a predicted spike in cases in December and January.
“That’s why we’ve prepared early to create as much capacity in the health system as possible,” he said on Friday.
The funding boost includes $87 million to enable more patients to be cared for in their homes, $42 million to pay for oximeters and home oxygen units, as well as 150 more staff to assess patient needs.
Another $40 million will boost Ambulance Victoria’s capacity, including by hiring more paramedics to assist with flow-on to emergency departments through a secondary triage system.
Fifty-eight non-emergency patient transport vehicles will be funded, as will 43 vehicles to provide surge capacity and another 200 student paramedics.
Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker told reporters he had never seen so much pressure on paramedics in his 35-year career.
“It’s going to be tough on our workforce, it’s tough on the whole health system at the moment,” he said.
Ambulance Victoria is responding to some 2000 triple-zero cases every day and about half are code one emergencies.
Paramedics are also responding to about 200 COVID-19 cases a day.
“If you’re sick you will get a good, quick response, if you’re not overly sick or if you’re not urgent you may have to wait longer than we’d like,” Mr Walker said.
The Hume region in Melbourne’s north, which has seen large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks, has seen a 46 per cent increase in code one ambulance responses compared with the same time last year.
He said 14 paramedics had contracted COVID-19, but they may not have caught the virus while at work.
Just over 50 paramedics are on leave because they were not vaccinated, but Mr Walker said that was not having an impact on resources.
Health performance data reveals the state’s hospitals admitted more than 500,000 patients between June and September.
That’s 7112 more than the previous quarter, and 71,949 more than the same time last year.
COVID-19 patients “in particular” were staying in hospital longer than normal, the state government said.
As of Friday, there are 634 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 109 in intensive care units and 73 on ventilators.
The figures show emergency departments were also under strain, receiving 83,042 more patients between June and September than in 2020.
There are more than 67,500 people waiting for elective surgery in Victoria, a figure that is expected to climb in the coming months.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the figures are the result of years of underinvestment by the Andrews government.
“People’s medical conditions are worsening because they can’t get the care and the treatment that they need,” she said.
NSW implemented home-based care measures months ago, and has hundreds more intensive care beds, according to Ms Crozier.
“This is just bandaid measures covering up what we know is a system in crisis,” she said.
As part of the government package, $12 million will got to Indigenous health organisations to increase clinical sessions and in-home care.
Extra funding will also support patients with a disability, who are currently hospitalised but are waiting for NDIS assistance before they are discharged.
Home-based palliative carers will be provided for an extra 450 people, and geriatric clinicians will be sent to residential aged care facilities to reduce avoidable hospital admissions.