THE state government has refuted a Nationals MP’s claims that Gippsland’s emergency department (EDs) are “on life support”.


In a media release earlier this month, Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien said that immediate intervention is needed from the government in response to figures showing that emergency departments across Gippsland are failing to meet key performance targets.


He was referring to the 2022-2023 Annual Reports from Central Gippsland Health (CGH), Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH), and Bass Coast Health (BCH).


“Only 59 per cent of patients who presented to LRH ED were seen within the clinically recommended timeframe while CGH performed slightly better at 74 per cent and BCH managed 78 per cent,” Mr O’Brien said. The targets the EDs should be hitting is 80 per cent.


The Victorian Auditor-General wrote in a 2016 report that longer stays in an ED are associated with poorer patient outcomes, and that long waits can discourage people who need care from waiting and may lead to reduced morale among ED staff.


When asked to comment on the ED figures, LRH pointed to a project trial that began in January 2023 to ease ED pressures and stress on staff by making patient flow-through more efficient.


In July, LRH said the project, known as the Timely Emergency Care Collaborative (TECC), was showing signs of success. ED and in-patient wait times had improved and patients were able to be received into the hospital and discharged with greater efficacy.


Approached for comment, the state government rejected Mr O’Brien’s criticism, saying that access to primary care and bed availability are at the heart of the issue.


“We won’t be lectured by the same people who slashed $1 billion from Victoria’s health system when last in Government – the records show that under the Liberal Nationals hospitals closed and health services were scaled back,” a state government spokesperson told the Express.


“Health services right across Australia and the world have experienced unprecedented pressure on the workforce as a result of COVID-19 pandemic – while we know there is more work to do, our record investments are supporting our hardworking frontline staff to deliver the care Victorians need.


“To take pressure off our hospitals and ensure Victorians get the care they need sooner, we’ve recruited and trained more than 7,000 healthcare workers, established 29 Priority Primary Care Centres (PPCCs), expanded the Victorian Virtual ED, and tripled the size of our secondary triage service.”


Two of these PPCCs are in Gippsland, in Warragul and Moe.


The government said the whole health system had to work together – not just state-run ambulance services and hospitals, but federally-funded and run primary care, aged care and the NDIS. They called on the federal government to implement reforms to the NDIS to ensure Victorians with a disability don’t have to stay in the hospital for longer than they need while they wait for their care plans to be approved.


Discussing another key performance, Mr O’Brien said patients presenting to EDs via ambulance were left waiting, with 42 per cent finding their way into the LRH ED within 40 minutes. This is compared to 59 per cent at BCH and 70 per cent for CGH. The target is 90 per cent.


“It is no wonder ambulance response times have not improved across Gippsland South with these figures clearly demonstrating that ambulances are getting stuck at our local EDs,” he said.


“Indeed, the latest reports from Ambulance Victoria show little-to-no improvement in response times across (Wellington and South Gippsland Shires) over the last ten years, with code 1 still averaging over 18-minute response time in both the Wellington and South Gippsland Shires.”


An Ambulance Victoria spokesperson said: “We value all our paramedics for the commitment and dedication they show every day – we continue to focus on delivering high quality care to the Gippsland community.


“Ambulance Victoria paramedics work hard transferring patients to hospital care safely and as soon as possible to allow our crews to get back on the road and respond to emergency incidents in our community.”


The government said in the latest October-December quarter, the number of Code 1 call outs rose by 3.4 per cent from the previous quarter to a total of 99,833 – making it the second busiest quarter in the history of Ambulance Victoria.


But ambulance transfer times have improved on the same time last year at Latrobe Regional Hospital – from 42 to 33 minutes.


Mr O’Brien said the “clear and crucial” need for the $10 million emergency department mental health hub at LRH was also evident in the performance figures which showed 72 percent of mental health patients presenting to LRH ED waiting more than four hours for treatment. This figure was well below the target of 19 percent.


Mr O’Brien called on the state government to take immediate action “to properly resource and staff our emergency departments”, and to scrap its planned GP payroll tax.


“It is clear that our local emergency departments are in desperate need of help to keep up with growing demand as Victorians put off crucial medical appointments due to the rising cost of living,” he said.