NSW paramedics overwhelmed even before Delta hit

By Tom Ravlic

Sunday September 19, 2021

The Australian Paramedics Association says Bureau of Health information shows ambulance services lack sufficient resources to move more quickly.
The Australian Paramedics Association says Bureau of Health information shows the ambulance service lacks sufficient resources to move more quickly.. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Ambulance services were overwhelmed in New South Wales before the current Delta outbreak and new data shows the emergency service was failing on key metrics, according to the Australian Paramedics Association.

Alan O’Riordan, the assistant secretary of the peak body for paramedics, said data from the Bureau of Health information has revealed that the ambulance service lacks sufficient resources to move more quickly.

O’Riordan said that just under 50% of priority one cases — emergency cases like strokes, cardiac arrests, and car crashes – were responded to under the target time according to the data for the April-June quarter.

Even priority two cases – cases for which a response within 30 minutes is the target — were impacted by the resource constraints. Only 55.6% of priority two cases received an ambulance within the target timeframe.

“This data shows what has been clear to paramedics all along: the service was under-resourced and barely coping well before the Delta outbreak. Just 47.9% of priority 1 cases received an ambulance within the 15-minute target time last quarter,” O’Riordan said.

“That shows unambiguously that the service was already failing patients, even by its own internal benchmarks, before the added strain of COVID-19 cases. It is cause for genuine alarm that when it comes to the highest priority cases, our ambulance service is failing to meet target response times half the time.”

O’Riordan said that any attempt by politicians to characterise the current lag in response times as being solely a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is misleading.

“To pass off our healthcare crisis as a product of the current outbreak is misleading at best. For too long, our failing healthcare system has been propped up by a fatigued paramedic workforce who are asked to work longer hours, under greater pressure, without breaks,” O’Riordan said.

“COVID may have served to highlight the existing issues, but this is fundamentally a crisis of resourcing and management.”

O’Riordan said that the paramedics’ peak body has been seeking greater action from government and NSW Health and there are a range of ideas that have been put forward.

“We’ve consistently communicated a clear list of demands to NSW Health, including concrete steps like hiring more Paramedics, investing in more specialists such as Extended Care Paramedics, expanding patient transport services to operate 24/7 — including in regional communities, and building a secondary triage model that can better utilise NSW’s referral networks,” O’Riordan said.


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