Victoria’s ambulance union says the state’s health system is being stretched to its limits. 

The Victorian Ambulance Union says people calling for an ambulance have been waiting up to 39 minutes on the phone.

“We’re aware of patients making their own way to hospital, and of aged care facilities calling for an ambulance and then not able to get a response, so they give up and call police,” says Danny Hill, union secretary. 

Currently, Victoria has fewer COVID-19 cases in hospital than modelling projections had suggested, but these still compound the other pressures on the system, including staff burnout, thunderstorm asthma cases, unwell elderly people, and accidents due to wild weather.

Also, people who delayed non-critical hospital care during COVID-19 lockdowns are now seeking treatment, adding to hospital pressures.

“There are enormous delays once ambulances get to hospitals, and the hospital staff and the paramedics are all doing their best to offload their patients,” Mr Hill said. 

“But we are now seeing in some regional areas, for example at Latrobe Regional hospital, that there is suddenly a lot more pressure.”

Some regional hospitals are seeing their first influx of COVID-19 patients.

“Our members are reporting to us that there’s a lack of facilities, a lack of social distancing, and they feel further exposed even once they’re on the hospital grounds,” Mr Hill says.

Several hospitals, including regional ones, say they have been experiencing significant demand for general medical and specialist services even prior to COVID-19. 

The annual report from the Victoria’s department of health shows that in 2020-21, 32 per cent of emergency department patients were not treated within the clinically recommended time, up from 26.6 per cent the year before. 

“Ambulance performance has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, with increased demand on health service emergency departments statewide placing additional pressure on offload times,” the report said.

“Overall demand for ambulance services has been substantially above previous years, despite a number of periods of reduced activity throughout the year as part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”