Ambulance service demands reach unprecedented levels

Ambulances at Melbourne's Northern Hospital

Source: Victorian Ambulance Union

Demand for ambulances in Victoria has surpassed the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the parents of a young child forced to drive her to hospital because the nearest ambulance was too far away.

The incident, involving a four-year-old girl, unfolded in Melbourne early on Monday after a weekend when ambulance services were stretched to the limit.

Ambulance Victoria executive director of regional operations Danielle North said seasonal illnesses was further hindering the embattled service.

“It is a complex issue. The demand is very, very high. It’s unprecedented the level that we’re seeing at the moment,” she said.

“Compared to this time last year, we’re seeing about a 5 per cent increase in demand across the system.

“Last year was a record-breaking year for demand, so it continues to grow.”

The lack of available ambulances on Monday prompted a code orange, which is triggered when just 1 per cent of ambulances are available.

Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said she was shocked to learn how the child was impacted by the mass shortages.

“Obviously when I read stories like that it’s very concerning,” she said on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any further information in relation to that young girl as her parents opted to drive her to hospital.”

North said Ambulance Victoria had conflicting reports about how close an ambulance was to the family, who reported it as 50 kilometres away, at the time of the call.

“My understanding is there was an ambulance closer than 50km,” she said.

“We’re trying to understand that detail, as to how that information was was provided to them, because we don’t believe that’s correct.”

Victorian Ambulance Union boss Danny Hill said the incident was a symptom of greater issues facing the system.

“It’s terrifying because at that exact time [the parents called triple-zero], ambulances dropped to 1 per cent available,” he said.

“This is an example of the real life consequences of not having ambulances available.

“Paramedics are spending all of their time ramped at hospital or being sent to these low acuity cases.”

The union, which is in the midst of a pay dispute with the state government posted footage to social media of ambulances ramped outside the busy Northern Hospital, in the Melbourne suburb of Epping.

North urged Victorians not in serious need of emergency care to avoid requesting an ambulance or calling triple-zero.

“One in five ambulance calls to triple-zero do not require an emergency ambulance,” she said.

“What I would say to Victorians is just an acknowledgement that the system is under significant pressure.”

Thomas earlier rebuffed suggestions the call dispatch system needed overhauling amid reports paramedics were being sent to too many cases that weren’t urgent.

“It is a system that is clinically governed in such a way to err on the side of caution,” she said.

“But I will say this, it is on all of us to ensure that our paramedics are there to respond to life-threatening emergencies.”


Topics: victoria
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