Records for ambulance demand in Victoria have been broken three times in a row, as COVID-19 continues to put unprecedented pressure on the health system across Victoria and the nation.
Ambulance Victoria Interim Chief Executive Felicity Topp said data for the fourth quarter of 2021/22 shows our response continues to be impacted by soaring demand, the wide spread of the Omicron variant, sicker patients who have deferred care, and staff furloughing.
“There are no signs of demand slowing down through winter. COVID-19 continues to pose a high risk to Victorians and will do some for some time,” Ms Topp said.
Ambulances were called to 97,928 Code 1 cases from April to June this year – making this quarter the busiest in Ambulance Victoria’s history and third consecutive record-breaking quarter.
That is a massive 16 per cent or 13,487 more ‘lights and sirens’ cases compared to this time last year and 4,694 more than the previous quarter.
The latest quarter breaks records set in the October to December quarter (91,397 Code 1 cases) and the January to March quarter (93,234 Code 1 cases).
Between April and June, 64 per cent of Code 1 cases were responded to within the state-wide average response time target of 15 minutes. The state-wide average response time to Code 1 cases was 15 minutes and 49 seconds.
Ms Topp said Ambulance Victoria was working hard to relieve pressure in the system with more paramedics on the road and more Ambulance Victoria Offload (AVOL) teams to rapidly transfer patients to hospital care.
“These teams, established as part of our pandemic response efforts to improve patient flow at the ambulance and hospital interface, are now being expanded to 14 public hospitals and a further five are in planning,” Ms Topp said.
“They are made up of paramedics and nurses who receive handover of suitable patients after triage, allowing ambulance crews to get back on the road faster.
“Meanwhile, a record 700 paramedics were recruited in 2021 and a further 404 paramedics have already been recruited this year to help get more ambulances on the road.”
Ms Topp said for less urgent cases, we’ve tripled the size of our Secondary Triage Service and use the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department (VVED) to help avoid unnecessary trips to our busy hospitals.
Between April and June Ambulance Victoria crews referred 8,144 people to the VVED, 74 per cent of which did not require transport to hospital.
“When paramedics arrive at a patient’s home, if the patient does not appear to require immediate transport to the ED, paramedics are able to arrange a video consultation with an emergency physician or nurse practitioner to determine if care can be safely and effectively provided in the home without the need for transport to hospital,” Ms Topp said.
“Thousands of patients have been able to be safely treated in their own homes. This is about ensuring patients get the right care at the right time, that better meets their needs.
“A recent Victorian Government boost to double the VVED’s capacity means many more patients will avoid unnecessary transport to hospital EDs which are continuing to experience record demand for care.”
Ms Topp said the service remained very busy, attending 1,800 to 2,000 cases a day, and asked the community to help by saving Triple Zero (000) for emergencies.
“Our paramedics are working extremely hard to manage the increasing demand while prioritising care to the sickest Victorians,” Ms Topp said.
“However, from April to June 42,525 callers to Triple Zero (000) did not need an emergency ambulance and were instead connected by paramedics and nurses in our Secondary Triage team to more appropriate care,” Ms Topp said.
“That results in 500 or more cases every day being matched to services that better suit their needs while also avoiding emergency dispatch.
“While ambulances are always provided to patients when required, about one in five calls to Triple Zero (000) do not need an emergency ambulance response.
“GPs and pharmacists can provide non-urgent care and Nurse-On-Call (1300 60 60 24) offers free medical advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if your condition is not life-threatening.
“Some people hesitate to call 000 because they are not sure if their situation is an emergency. If in doubt, always call Triple Zero (000), and the trained call-taker will help and direct you.
“Despite our current challenges in this COVID-19-environment, Ambulance Victoria continues to deliver safe and high-quality patient outcomes.”