Seymour resident Tony Hubbard and Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell with their petition to improve ambulance resources in Seymour.

By Colin MacGillivray

MEMBER for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell has welcomed a $40 million State Government boost for Ambulance Victoria but warned the service remains under significant pressure.

Ms Maxwell, an MP for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, has advocated for better ambulance following the 2019 death of Seymour resident Gayl Hubbard, who waited nearly 45 minutes for an ambulance despite living near Seymour ambulance station.

Gayl’s husband Tony and Ms Maxwell tabled a petition in Victoria’s Parliament calling for on-call ambulance services to be restored in Seymour.

The government announced on Friday a $307 million package to free up capacity for Victorian hospitals and ambulance services, including $40 million to hire additional paramedics and expand Ambulance Victoria’s call triage service.

Ambulance Victoria said the funding would double the capacity of its triple zero call triage service to free up emergency ambulances, so the sickest patients could receive critical care faster amid rising demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paramedics across Victoria were called to 80,459 life-threatening – or code one – cases between July and September, a 17.2 per cent increase on the same time in 2020.

In Mitchell Shire, there was a 9.7 per cent increase in code one cases from the same time last year.

Paramedics attended 60.2. per cent of code one patients within 15 minutes, compared with 66 per cent for the same period in 2020.

Ms Maxwell said the figures showed paramedics were not adequately resourced.

“In Whittlesea local government area, it takes on average almost three minutes more, at 14:20 minutes, to get an ambulance to a code one emergency than it did 12 months ago,” she said.

“In the same quarter last year it responded to code one call-outs in less than 15 minutes 83.1 per cent of the time. But that’s dropped to 68.4 per cent in the last quarter.

“In Mitchell Shire, at 16:03 minutes, it takes 2:19 minutes more than it did a year ago.

“And in Macedon Ranges, at 15:22 minutes, it takes 1:23 minutes more than a year ago, with a response within 15 minutes falling six per cent to 62 per cent.”

Ms Maxwell said the announcement was a step in the right direction, but criticised the government’s lack of urgency on the issue after it allocated extra money to Ambulance Victoria in the State Budget in May.

“This is a systemic problem that’s still to be fixed and I’m worried that it will cost lives unless the government gets to grips with it right now,” she said.

Ambulance Victoria Hume acting regional director Narelle Capp said the performance data showed the entire health system faced significant pressure and increasing demand.

“Here in Hume, we are dealing with an extraordinary workload, which is also being experienced by crews right across the state,” she said.

Across Victoria, more than 35,000 callers to triple zero between July and September did not need an emergency ambulance and were instead connected with paramedics and nurses in the state’s secondary triage service to find more appropriate care pathways to meet their needs.

“We’ve expanded our secondary triage service with an additional 97 paramedics and nurses – effectively doubling the size of the referral service for less-urgent Triple Zero calls,” Ms Capp said.

“This vital service frees up ambulances for the sickest patients by connecting patients who do not need an emergency ambulance with alternative care.

“That results in 500 or more cases every day that are being matched to services that better suit their needs while also avoiding emergency dispatch. This means more emergency ambulances available on the road during this incredibility challenging time.”

Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker said the performance data were not surprising given the level of demand experienced across Australia during as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prof Walker said he expected the health crisis to continue for several months.

“The entire healthcare system across Australia is under sustained pressure and our paramedics and first responders are experiencing this first-hand,” he said.

“We are asking every Victorian to work with us by saving triple zero for emergencies by calling Nurse-On-Call, 1300 60 60 24, for immediate health advice or seeing your GP or pharmacist early for advice or treatment.”

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