CRITICALLY ill patients in Wellington Shire are having to wait longer and longer for an ambulance to arrive, data obtained by the State Opposition reveals.
Recent Ambulance Victoria figures, obtained by the Opposition under the Freedom of Information Act, show that code one response times for patients with life-threatening illness or injury have grown longer in both Sale and Maffra.
According to the data, the 90th percentile response times listed in 2009-2010 for Maffra was 28 minutes, and Sale was 26 minutes.
By 2010-2011, the response times had increased to 32 minutes for Maffra and 29 minutes for Sale — an increase of four and three minutes, respectively.
The data also revealed that during the same period, July 2010 to November 2011, there were 266 unfilled shifts recorded in Gippsland, where one or both paramedics were not replaced and as a result the ambulance shift did not operate.
Ambulance Employees Association Victoria state secretary Steve McGhie said the data showed regional paramedics were severely under-resourced.
“The response times show there’s clearly a trend emerging that’s going in the wrong way,” he said.
“It’s a result of not having enough ambulance resources available to paramedics, and also now that cases are controlled out of Ballarat.
“Because of this new system, the workload of regional paramedics has now gone up.”
Mr McGhie said the new allocation system used by Ambulance Victoria dispatched the nearest available ambulance to a call-out, which often resulted in an ambulance from another town being sent to an emergency.
“It’s also very clear that there just aren’t enough paramedics,” he added.
“Wellington Shire and Gippsland are one of the most under-resourced areas in the state.
“The issue of not having upwards of 250 shifts filled can lead ambulances to not even meeting minimal resourcing requirements.
“Clearly, the area needs more ambulance crews.”
Labor’s Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Wade Noonan, echoed Mr McGhie’s comments.
“Response times for ambulances attending critically ill or injured people in the Sale and Maffra areas have blown out by three to four minutes in the space of 18 months,” Mr Noonan said.
“Every minute counts when it comes to ambulance response times.
“We know that the speed in which a patient reaches hospital can affect a patient’s chances of recovery.”
“The Baillieu Government should stop blaming others for their failings and get on with the job of providing an effective ambulance service for the people living in regional and rural Victoria.
“Our ambulance paramedics do a great job under extreme pressure, but at the moment they are being stretched to the limit.”
The criticism comes after a coronial inquest last year into the deaths of a young boy and a teenage girl recommended more paramedics be allocated to Gippsland.
Six-year-old Rupert Rafferty died in Briagolong on April 23, 2010, from complications of Pneumococcal meningitis.
The following night, 16-year-old Geordie Duguid collapsed at a party in Maffra, fell into cardiac arrest and died.
As a result of the inquest, Coroner Clive Alsop recommended that Health Minister David Davis “… investigate the adequacy of both current and planned levels of ambulance services provided for those who choose to live away from more densely populated areas.”
However, Ambulance Victoria acting regional manager for Gippsland Mick Stephenson asserts it was providing more resources for Gippsland.
“We have added to our services to the area by adding a professional ambulance service to Heyfield last July and will introduce a MICA single responder unit in Sale from the middle of next year,” Mr Stephenson told the Gippsland Times.
“We are also continuing to bolster our volunteer services in Heyfield and Maffra and will soon undertake training of new ambulance community officers.
“While response times show how fast ambulances can drive to a scene, we continue to see improvements in the more important measures of whether people live or die, and the quality of their life, for cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke and head trauma patients.
“Like other members of the community, sometimes paramedics are unable to work due to illness or family commitments.
“We make every effort to fill every shift including contacting off-duty paramedics to determine their availability to work overtime.”
The Gippsland Times phoned Health Minister David Davis’ office for comment, but no response was provided before going to print.