Code Red- Ambulance response times worsen

Ambulance response times in Indigo Shire have blown out to 24 minutes and 51 seconds, the worst time recorded in five years. Photo: Ambulance Victoria Facebook.

With demand for emergency services right across the nation at an all-time high, overall response times in Indigo Shire have significantly increased.

According to performance data released by Ambulance Victoria for the January 1 – March 31, 2022, quarter, only 24.6 per cent of Code 1 incidents were responded to in under 15 minutes, alarmingly lower than the state average of 66.8 per cent.

It’s a far cry from the previous quarter (October 2021-December 2021) where 35 per cent of Code 1 incidents were responded to in under 15 minutes, considered a slight improvement from previous reports.

The latest data also shows the average time it took for ambulances to officially respond to a call in the region was 24 minutes and 51 seconds, the worst time recorded in over five years.

The term ‘Code 1’ means an incident that requires urgent paramedic and hospital care, based on information available at time of call. Patients’ lives are more likely in danger and receive a “lights and sirens” response.

While the data suggests residents of more rural and remote areas experience greater waiting times, Indigo Shire Mayor Bernard Gaffney said the latest report was concerning.

“Indigo Shire Council CEO Trevor Ierino and myself discussed the matter this morning (Monday, May 9) and we will write to the minister and aky why response times have slipped despite recent additional resources,” Mayor Gaffney said.

“It is more than disappointing to see these Code 1 times increase and it puts our residents lives at risk.”

A spokesperson from Ambulance Victoria said the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an unprecedented impact on demand for emergency care.

“We are continuing to work hard to better meet the needs of Indigo community members.

“The Yarrawonga ambulance branch was recently converted to a 24-hour service, providing a significant boost to emergency care services in the area.

“We are looking forward to welcoming 10 new graduate paramedics to the Hume region in the coming weeks as part of the state government’s $35 million boost to get more ambulances on road and to patient’s faster.”

State-wide performance date shows that the pandemic continues to put pressure on a stretched system with soaring demand for emergency healthcare and Covid isolation requirements affecting hundreds of paramedics.

In Lodden, only 18.4 per cent of were attended to by ambulances within the 15-minute target while in Strathbogie only 25.3 per cent were attended to in less than 15 minutes.

Ambulance Victoria’s Response Times Performance Data also releases Code Two response times which are cases that are acute but non-time critical cases still requiring an ambulance.

For the previous quarter (October 1 – December 31 2021) the average response time across Indigo Shire was 41 minutes and 42 seconds across 126 cases.

From January 1 – March 31, 2022, the average time increased for a response time of 44 minutes and 02 seconds for a total of 104 cases.

Last week the Victorian State Government announced in their budget that $457 million would be committed towards improving ambulance response times.

Of the money, $333m will be spent recruiting another 400 call-takers and despatchers to the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority and $124m to recruit and train another 90 paramedics, improve ambulance fleet management and staff rostering, and reduce bottlenecks at hospital emergency departments.

Northern Victoria MP Tania Maxwell welcomed the news and said she had pushed successive emergency services ministers since 2019 to fix performance problems that can be life-threatening in regional Victoria.

“I’ve been raising ambulance service issues consistently with the government across the past three years,” Ms Maxwell said.

“I’ve brought to ministers’ and parliament’s attention many times the challenges my communities face with Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority call-handling, ambulance emergency response times, hospital ramping and how community paramedics and first-responder services could be supported to reduce the strains on our health system.

“But the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath seem only to have made things worse.

“When every second counts, the latest Ambulance Victoria performance data shows Northern Victorians had to wait 50 seconds longer on average in the three months to the end of March than they did for an ambulance to arrive at a code one call-out in the previous quarter.

“Across 27 local government areas in my electorate, people wait on average 20 minutes 16 seconds for an ambulance called to an emergency, almost two minutes more than they did a year ago.

“And in Indigo in the North East, one of our smallest shires by population and area, the latest data shows the average emergency response time has blown out three minutes in the past quarter, to 24:51 minutes, and more than 2:12 minutes in the past year.

“So, I’ll be asking the government for detailed assurances about the benefits my communities can expect from the extra funding announced in the budget after Parliament resumes next week.”