Ambulance ramping times balloon

Increases in ambulance ramping times at Latrobe Regional Hospital have continued to grow faster than at any other Victorian hospital, with total patient waiting times ballooning 251 per cent over the past three years.

According to the data obtained through Freedom of Information by the Opposition government, patient transfer times at LRH in the year leading up to June 2013 totalled 2218 hours, up from 631 hours in 2009/2010.

The increase far outstretched ramping increases at other state hospitals, with Ballarat hospital facing the next largest increase, growing 169 per cent over the same time period.

Opposition health parliamentary secretary Wade Noonan said the figures were further proof of a grid-locked health system, in which ambulances were being forced to wait outside of hospitals longer than ever before.

“These figures prove what paramedics have been saying for a long time now – that ramping at hospitals has never been as bad as it is now,” Mr Noonan said.

“Longer ramping times at hospitals means patients are waiting longer to get into hospital and there are fewer ambulances available to respond to life-threatening emergencies – this places lives at risk.”

However LRH acting chief executive Amanda Cameron said the accumulative waiting times had increased due to a growth in numbers of people coming to ED by ambulance.

Ms Cameron said 93 per cent of patients brought to LRH were transferred within the 40-minute target last financial year.

“More recent figures show that this has risen to 95 per cent. We are in fact exceeding the statewide target of transferring 90 per cent of all patients within 40 minutes,” Ms Cameron said.

Moe paramedic Tony Davis has been driving ambulances for 33 years, and said there was a wide range of reasons putting the system under pressure.

“While this is mostly about lack of beds, there’s a whole range of things compounding this – the Valley’s got a growing population, and there seems to be a lot more people using the department as default clinic,” Mr Davis said.

“The other issue is people call an ambulance – instead of going to ED themselves – thinking they will get seen quicker because (they were) taken by ambos, but that’s not true.”

Mr Davis said some patients had to wait up to an hour and half before being accepted by LRH staff.

“Paramedics have to sit and wait with patients and continue to treat them inside the emergency department – I’ve had to give morphine to patients because of the pain they are in, while doctors are busy doing something else,” he said.

“It’s not the staff’s fault, it’s a system collapsing under the weight of itself. It’s reached a critical point because at certain times, three or four ambulances are banked up there, so there are no other cars in the Valley to respond to further call outs.

“We get paged for job and we can’t do anything about it – we’ve had to get cars to come from Berwick to Moe to cover for us, so you are just dragging resources from other areas, it’s a really big problem.”

Victorian Health Minister David Davis said the Government would be implementing recommendations from the expert Ambulance Transfer Taskforce to end “confusion” surrounding the clinical responsibilities of hospitals and ambulances.

 “Through better cooperation between hospitals and Ambulance Victoria, paramedics will be able to spend more time on the road attending to the needs of patients,” Minister Davis said.

 “This will now change with hospitals assuming responsibility for patients upon arrival of an ambulance at an emergency department, allowing ambulance paramedics to be out on the road earlier to tend to patients.”