Ambulance, triple zero delays hit Victoria

Victorians calling triple zero are facing “unacceptable delays” while ambulance ramping has been seen outside a Melbourne hospital, as the state’s health system struggles to keep on top of demand. 

© Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS Ambulances are queuing outside hospitals as COVID-19 increases pressure on Victoria’s health system.

In a video posted to social media on Monday night, dozens of ambulances can be seen waiting outside Melbourne’s Northern Hospital.

The state’s ambulance union says this is happening at hospitals across Victoria.

“It is very common, that you have that many crews ramped at the Northern Hospital, and any of the other hospitals across the state. We’ve seen it much worse,” Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill told AAP.

In another incident on Monday, Mr Hill said people calling triple zero were forced to wait up 10 minutes before their call was transferred to either police, fire or ambulance.

“The Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority were really busy, but quite short-staffed last night. So at one point they had calls waiting up to 10 minutes, which is an unacceptable delay,” he said.

Health Minister Martin Foley said triple zero delays were related to demand from people in COVID-19 outbreak hotspots, particularly those in Melbourne’s north and west.

“As concern and anxiety around COVID-19 grows, we see that level of demand grow,” he told reporters.

“On top of that we are seeing unprecedented levels of demand right across our (health) system, and we need to make sure we do everything we can to get through that.”

He encouraged Victorians to only call triple zero “for the most urgent calls” in coming weeks and months, which he said would be “a hugely challenging period”.

Mr Hill warned that ramping, when ambulances are forced to park outside hospitals because the emergency department is full, will only get worse as COVID-19 cases continue to climb and restrictions are slowly eased.

“For every minute that an ambulance crew is waiting in a hospital corridor, they might be unable to respond to other cases out there in the community and that’s the big risk that we’ve got,” he said. 

Burnet Institute modelling shows Victoria could be recording between 1400 and 2900 daily cases when the Delta outbreak peaks by the end of October.

At that stage, hospitalisations may climb to between 1200 and 2500.

With 375 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, Mr Foley said frontline healthcare staff “are working like never before”.

“We’ve had, as recently as yesterday, discussions with Ambulance Victoria in a very productive level, as to the measures they’re taking,” he said. 

He said plans are in place to supplement the state’s workforce, with parts of the health system being “deprioritised” and partnerships with the private sector being developed “to switch demand from the public sector to the private sector”.

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