April 26th, 2021Ambulance times cause for country concern
Her statement has been backed up by Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill who said rural towns like those in the Central Highlands could be left without ambulance coverage for up to six hours.
However, Central Highlands Rural Health deputy CEO Phillip Catterson said anyone with an emergency not requiring an ambulance could always attend either Daylesford or Kyneton hospitals “24/7”.
Cr Hewitt said the recent Saturday incident at Victoria Park, on April 17, where Daylesford footballer Josh Cowan was left waiting for more than an hour for an ambulance after breaking his leg, highlighted the ambulance problem.
“I understand that Ambulance Victoria have said it was a communication problem, apologised for something that was extremely distressing and are currently undertaking a look at their response times across Victoria.
“So, it is a statewide problem but there is also concern about the amount of time it can take for an ambulance to arrive in Hepburn Shire. The data on response times indicates it is a real concern. And I totally understand the distress and concern that people have if they are facing an emergency. I would hope this incident would lead to some changes.”
Cr Hewitt also said new residents, perhaps moving from bigger cities, needed to be aware that in a small regional area, many services were less available than they were in metropolitan areas.
She said while ambulance transport was always best for emergencies, if people were given a real-time estimate of when an ambulance was going to arrive it would help them make more informed decisions.
“Obviously on Saturday you would not have moved that footballer but maybe in other circumstances if you could drive and had someone else with you giving first aid, that might be an option.
“Being properly informed allows people to make better decisions.”
Cr Hewitt said council’s role was to advocate for more resources in the area and that was done whenever the opportunity arose.
“People living here need to be aware there can be delays and if that happens in front of everyone at the football that becomes incredibly distressing to both the family and the spectators. Hopefully he is now receiving good care.”
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said people “absolutely” had a right to be concerned about the lack of ambulance coverage in Hepburn Shire.
“The sad thing is, that while this gentleman last week suffered an extremely painful and traumatic injury to his leg, it wasn’t life threatening at that time, and eventually someone in a life-threatening emergency will have to wait for an ambulance and suffer the consequences of that. And that is frightening and people’s concerns are absolutely valid that they won’t get an ambulance in time.”
Mr Hill said it would be common across rural regions, and especially towns around Ballarat, for there to be no ambulance available for up to six hours.
“Ballarat is such a busy area and Daylesford would transport most of their patients to Ballarat (Base) Hospital and once they are there they might have to ramp there for a couple of hours. Then once they can leave, because of the backlog of cases that needed to be attended in Ballarat, basically they become Ballarat’s crew.
“That leaves areas like Creswick and Daylesford uncovered. Peripheral crews are sucked into bigger towns and can’t get back to the branch they need to cover. Five hours would be quite common.
“It’s like a footy match. You have your positions and you go back to that spot so you can best cover your area. It is meant to happen, but we are so busy in major centres they may never get back to their branch.”
Mr Hill said the biggest issue at the moment was that demand, often because people had not kept up medical appointments during Covid, and time spent ramping was “off the charts” and even ambulance stations going 24-hours could not fix that.
“One thing we are seeing is that during the pandemic there has been a real migration with so many people living and working from home in rural areas. So the workload in towns like Bendigo and Ballarat has really expanded a lot.
“The biggest two main things we need to do is changing ramping so we are getting paramedics leaving hospitals quickly so they can get to other cases and the other is connecting all the health pathways, all the health services, the smaller hospitals. At the moment, it is almost like Game of Thrones with separate kingdoms and castles and each managing their own scenarios. We need to try to make the system work as a system.
“Particularly in rural areas we have probably 130 extra beds in the system that we are not using and that could really help with ramping in rural areas.”
Central Highlands Rural Health deputy CEO Phillip Catterson said both Daylesford and Kyneton hospitals offered urgent care around the clock and had Rural & Isolated Practice Endorsed Registered Nurses (RIPRN) on staff at all times, and doctors on call.
“It is a fantastic model. Our RIPRN/senior nurses do the initial assessment,, triage, and our GPs work with us by telehealth or call-in to deliver great care as required. Our motto is “Triage, Treat, Transfer”. If people need care we will look after them.”
Ambulance Victoria’s Grampians regional director Chris James told The Local he had spoken with Mr Cowan to “sincerely apologise for the delay in our response on Saturday”. “I can confirm the patient is recovering well without any issues regarding our care. At the same time, we are continuing our review to determine what occurred and what could have been done differently.”
Ambulance Victoria did not return queries by press time on whether there were grounds for concern over ambulance times in Hepburn Shire.
Above, Daylesford Football Club members gather after the ambulance has finally arrived, centre, Mayor Lesley Hewitt, bottom, Central Highlands Rural Health’s Phillip Catterson
Words: Donna Kelly | Top image: Brendan Murray | Images: Contributed