Ambulance call service deferred in Bendigo

A CALL centre service that determines whether an ambulance is needed to respond to an emergency could be months away from being rolled out in Bendigo. 

That is despite plans to have the system introduced by mid-February.

Ambulance Victoria referral service manager Angela Hodgkinson issued an apology to staff for the inconveniences caused in the roll-out.

In an email, obtained by the Bendigo Advertiser, Ms Hodgkinson said Ambulance Victoria "had planned to bring on the four rural regions in early 2014 however Ambulance Victoria is now planning on this occurring in April 2014".

Ambulance Victoria communications and referral manager Danny McGennisken said in a statement this week there was no exact date for the regional roll-out. He said it would be introduced "in the coming months".

The referral service deals with triple-0 calls where an ambulance may not be required and an alternative service, such as sending a nurse or doctor, is more suitable.

Mr McGennisken said the system, which has been in use in metropolitan Melbourne since 2003, was a significant project.

"We want to ensure we get it right," he said.

Ambulance Employees union state secretary Steve McGhie said he was unsure why the roll-out was pushed back.  He said he was seeking answers on why staff were rostered on to fill the roles and why it wasn't yet going ahead.

"We're not sure whether they don't have the staff," he said. "We haven't had a briefing on the deferment."

Bendigo paramedic Brett Adie said the referral service would be a major boost in freeing up ambulance resources.

He said without the system paramedics were forced to respond to all jobs they get calls for and carry out duties, such as organising doctor appointments.

"There’s a lot of jobs we go to that are ridiculous in the extreme," he said. 

"We're doing things that are outside our responsibility. It's a drain on resources."

Mr Adie said the service has worked well in Melbourne for a decade and should be used in Bendigo and other regional areas immediately.

"It affects response times," he said. "At the moment there are no cut-off points in rural areas. We’re being sent absolute rubbish."

The referral service was expanded into the Barwon South West region in late 2012.

Mr Adie said he was hopeful the system would be introduced in Bendigo soon.

"It's not difficult to roll out. Everything is already in place."

Health Minister David Davis said the referral service works successfully in metropolitan Melbourne and the Barwon South West region, and the government is keen to see it expanded across the state. 

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