Call for action as ambulance services continue to be stretched by demand

The Beaconsfield 2 crew were dragged out to Warburton for a call that didn't even require transport to a hospital. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Callum Ludwig

An ambulance crew was subjected to an arduous trip out to Warburton as the sky-high demand for emergency responses and the prevalence of non-emergency calls continues to put a strain on paramedics.

The Beaconsfield 2 crew were dispatched from their base at about 7.10pm on Sunday 28 April out to Warburton to respond to a callout as all other ambulances were tied up in the region.

Paramedic Chloe Brennan was part of the crew who responded to the call and said there would have been 16 ambulances based closer to Warburton who were unable to respond.

“There’s at least eight ambulance branches closer to Warburton and most of these branches would have at least 2 operational ambulances staffed at this time of day,” she said.

“It took the crew one hour to arrive at the job, a Code Two, which in normal circumstances Ambulance Victoria (AV) would expect to have a crew on scene within 25 minutes and after being assessed, the patient declined the crew’s offers of transport to hospital.”

Over the course of this one night shift, the Beaconsfield 2 crew travelled over 420km, with the Warburton trip there and back accounting for about 120km alone.

“It then took the crew another hour to drive back to Beaconsfield, this meant the crew were unavailable to respond to other emergencies for approximately two and half hours,” Ms Brennan said.

“The crew also completed their 14-hour shift without receiving their meal break.”

A number of unions, including the Victorian Ambulance Union and the Victorian branch of Ambulance Employees Australia are carrying out protected industrial action on behalf of paramedics and other ambulance workers to improve working conditions, reduce workloads, address the inappropriate coding of jobs and better allocate ambulance resources, while also having been negotiating new bargaining agreements with 000VIC for over a year.

Ms Brennan said they commonly find that periphery and urban fringe branches such as Yarra Junction, Emerald, Healesville and Montrose get sent to respond to jobs in inner metro areas, which frequently get inappropriately coded as high acuity or emergency jobs only to find on arrival, the patient is not particularly unwell.

“We have examples of crews being sent lights and sirens to complaints such as toothaches or sore shoulders after going to the gym, these crews then get ramped for hours at hospital leaving them unavailable to respond to their local communities, this is where we see instances similar to Sunday night where crews are required to travel excessive distances to reach jobs because the local crews are ramped at hospitals,” she said.

“Paramedics are completing 800 hours of forced overtime every day because of the inefficiencies in the system and as a result of this we are seeing hugely detrimental effects on paramedic fatigue, mental health and burnout rates,”

“Paramedics are dedicated and passionate about providing the highest level of care possible to their local communities, however, frustratingly they are often restricted by the systems and processes in place.”

15 minutes is the target response time for ambulance crews to Code One jobs, with AV’s latest performance data for the last quarter of 2023 the first time in over two years that the average response time to Code One calls was under the 15 minute target, despite it being the busiest in AV’s history with 154,267 emergency cases. This included 99,833 Code 1 cases – the second most on record – and 54,434 Code 2 cases.

As previously reported in the Star Mail, this is what the performance data told about responses in the Outer East:

73.6 per cent of the 2160 callouts in Knox were responded to within 15 minutes, down 0.2 per cent but the average response time improved by 20 seconds to 13 minutes and 34 seconds.

71.3 per cent of Maroondah’s 1567 callouts were responded to within 15 minutes, down 1.7 per cent while the average response time improved by 6 seconds to 13 minutes and 49 seconds.

51.4 per cent of callouts in 1759 Cardinia were responded to within 15 minutes, up from 50.8 per cent and the average response time worsened by 31 seconds to 17 minutes and 51 seconds.

55.5 per cent of the 2190 Yarra Ranges callouts were responded to within 15 minutes, improved from 53.7 per cent with the average response time also improving by 19 seconds to 16 minutes and 52 seconds.

The demand on ambulance services also comes as The Herald Sun reported on 3 May that a patient died while waiting in the emergency department of the Maroondah Hospital, the nearest hospital with an emergency department to service the Maroondah and Yarra Ranges regions.