Ambulance response times falling in Bendigo

Ambulance response times have steadily improved in Bendigo over the past three years, but still fall short of the target.

Ambulance Victoria’s 2016-17 annual report shows that 75.9 per cent of the most urgent incidents were responded to within 15 minutes last financial year, with an average response time of 13 minutes and five seconds.

This is an improvement on 73.3 per cent the previous year and 68.2 per cent in 2014-15, when the average response time was 13 minutes 37 seconds and 14 minutes 15 seconds, respectively.

But that figure does not meet the statewide average and the service’s target, which specifies that 90 per cent of Code 1 incidents should be responded to within 15 minutes in places with populations greater than 7500.

The proportion of urgent incidents responded to within 15 minutes improved for most municipalities in central Victoria, with the exception of Loddon, Central Goldfields and Gannawarra shires, which also saw average response times rise.

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A Code 1 incident is considered to be one which requires urgent paramedic and hospital care, based on information available at the time of the call.

Across Victoria as a whole, 78.3 per cent of the most urgent call-outs had a response within the recommended time frame, with an average time of 12 minutes 26 seconds.

In its annual report, Ambulance Victoria said that while response times fell below targets, performance had improved on the previous year, despite ongoing growth in demand.

In 2016-17, there was a nearly 3 per cent increase in demand for Triple Zero services.

Ambulance Victoria chief executive officer Tony Walker said the service had made significant changes to its clinical response model.

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“As a result of the changes, we are reaching an additional 7000 priority patients within our 15-minute timeframe on an annualised basis and 50,000 people who previously received an emergency ambulance are now being safely referred to care which is more appropriate to the urgency of their individual case,” Associate Professor Walker said.

The service also recorded Victoria’s highest-ever cardiac arrest survival rate in 2016-17.

Last November, the state government made a $500 million pledge to train 450 new paramedics over three years, plus build or upgrade 15 stations and provide extra resources for rural communities.

Some of the new paramedics will be in central Victoria, with three undergoing training at the start of the year to work in Castlemaine, Kyneton and Woodend.

Ambulance Victoria acting regional director Graeme Parker said the past 12 months were “transformational” for Ambulance Victoria, with improvements the result of industry reforms and government investment. 

“These reforms have seen 7,000 of our sickest patients across the state receive an ambulance faster,” Mr Parker said. 

“We have also worked closely with hospitals to have paramedics clearing cases as quickly as possible, to ensure they are available to respond to other calls.”

Areas where response times dropped had small numbers of cases every year, he said, with distance to their remote towns a reason why times might lag.