Ambulance ramping a ‘crisis that’s costing lives’, Liberal leader says

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says Victoria’s health system is in crisis with lives being lost, while the government has urged people to proactively look after their health so they do not end up in already-overcrowded emergency departments.

The Liberal leader demanded the government urgently heed the warnings of the paramedics union and the Australian Medical Association, which both say the health system is in the grips of a deadly period of heightened demand and depleted resources.

Ambulances have had to wait for hours outside Victorian hospitals.

The Age revealed on Thursday that the time acutely ill people have to wait for an ambulance is longer than it has been since 2016-17. Incidences of “ramping” – when ambulances wait outside emergency departments because no beds are available – have spiked, with some patients with heart attack symptoms or spinal injuries waiting for as long as five hours.

“It’s very disturbing to see that Victoria’s health crisis is now costing lives,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This is a crisis. It’s a crisis that’s costing lives and Daniel Andrews and James Merlino need to listen and act.”

“No Victorian should be left lying in an ambulance when they should be inside a hospital having their life saved.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien.Credit:Eddie Jim

The state’s healthcare watchdog began investigating the deaths of two patients who had been waiting in ambulances outside hospitals last July. The AMA says it is difficult to directly attribute deaths to specific problems in the health system, but the group believes the current situation is causing people to die whose lives might otherwise be saved.

The Opposition Leader’s blunt attacks resemble those made by Mr Andrews when he was opposition leader after ambulance response times blew out under the Napthine government. Mr Andrews repeatedly blamed deaths on then-premier Denis Napthine. Fixing what Mr Andrews labelled the ambulance crisis was a key election pillar in the upset 2014 election win.

The troubled health system has presented an opportunity for Mr O’Brien to campaign on reforms to a bread-and-butter service delivery area.

The government has a strong record on the health, education and transport policy since winning government, and the Coalition has come under criticism for not spending enough time focussing on issues that matter to people’s day-to-day livelihoods.

“We’ve got a state government here in Victoria that can’t get the basics right,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This is a government that came to office promising to fix problems [related to ambulance response times]. Instead, they’ve made them worse.”

The main cause of poor ambulance response times is over-crowded emergency departments, which is forcing some ambulances to wait for hours outside hospitals and therefore not be on the road responding to incidents.

The AMA says unseasonable spikes in some respiratory illnesses and gastroenteritis, as well as rules that prevent people with COVID-19 symptoms from visiting their GPs, are causing the heightened demand.

Healthcare experts also say many people who did not follow their regular health, medication and mental health plans during the pandemic and three month-lockdown are now showing up in emergency departments with acute health issues.

Victorian Minister Jaala Pulford.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Jaala Pulford, Victoria’s Small Business and Employment Minister, urged Victorians to stay on top of their health and take preventative measures to prevent ailments festering.

“Continue to look after your health. Continue to get that funny thing on your skin looked at. Make sure you do your bowel screening, make sure you do your breast screening,” she said on Thursday morning.

“We all know the warning signs. Take those seriously.”

“All the things you would have seen your doctor about in 2019, you absolutely can go and see your doctor about in 2021.”

Ms Pulford does not have any portfolio responsibilities for healthcare and Health Minister Martin Foley was unavailable for a telephone interview on Thursday afternoon.

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