Bendigo paramedics 'understaffed and overworked': industry source

FLAT OUT: Bendigo paramedics are understaffed and under the pump, which is reflected in their urgent response times, according to an industry source.
FLAT OUT: Bendigo paramedics are understaffed and under the pump, which is reflected in their urgent response times, according to an industry source.

Ambulance response times in Greater Bendigo have plateaued over the past year, with under-resourced paramedics struggling with snowballing workloads.  

Responses to urgent, or Code 1, jobs attended within the 15-minute benchmark from October-December 2016 was 75.9 per cent, with Ballarat (84 per cent) and Warrnambool (89.8 per cent) recording better statistics.

The statewide average for Code 1 jobs during the same period was 75.9 per cent – just under 10 per cent below Ambulance Victoria’s stated target.

An industry source, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Bendigo Advertiser the region continues to be overlooked for funding. 

In November, the state government pledged $500 million to improve Victoria's ambulance service and response times, including hiring 450 new paramedics, over the next three years. 

“Since December, Ambulance Victoria have funded one extra truck per day, but they’re stopping that in June because they say they can’t afford it,” the source said.

Ballarat has double the daytime resources of Bendigo, while both had similar workloads, the source said.

“We’re scratching our heads, we don’t know why we’re getting continually overlooked. We’re the second busiest area in regional Victoria behind Geelong,” the source said.

“It’s not fair on the people of Bendigo.”​ 

When the four new depots – Epsom, Eaglehawk, Central Bendigo and Strathdale –  were built in 2010/11, just two extra staff we put on by Ambulance Victoria, the source said.

“We just spread out.”

In the 2015/16 financial year, 73.3 per cent of code 1 ambulance call-outs in Bendigo were attended within 15 minutes, up from 64.6 per cent in 2013/14. 

Bendigo has five stretcher vehicles available during the day, and around 70 paramedics are employed in the region, according to the source. 

Bendigo’s average Code 2 response time from October- December 2016 was 28:31 minutes – 30 seconds under the statewide average.  

Ambulance Victoria said response times had improved across greater Bendigo, but acknowledged more work needed to be done.

The organisation said recent data showed paramedics responded to more emergency cases within target time frames, and faster.

Loddon Mallee Regional Director Kevin Masci said responses to Code 1 cases during the last quarter showed paramedics reached more than 80 per cent of cases within the target of 15 minutes, with an average response time of 12 minutes and 35 seconds.

“In the Greater Bendigo area, response times are faster than the previous four reporting quarters, with an average response time to Code 1 cases being 13 minutes and 25 seconds,’’ he said.

“The figures also show improvement in the percentage of Code 1 cases responded to within 15 minutes, jumping to more than 75 per cent.

“This is a significant improvement on performance in 2013/14 when there was an average Code 1 response time in Greater Bendigo of 15 minutes 14 seconds and 64.6 per cent of Code 1 cases were attended within 15 minutes.’’

Mr Masci said while the improvements were encouraging, he acknowledged more needed to be done to meet targets and community expectations.

“We have recently added an extra patient transport service in Bendigo to improve availability of emergency ambulances for emergencies,’’ he said.

“All calls for ambulance are assessed on their severity and we always prioritise our ambulances to respond to the sickest patients first, particularly those with life-threatening conditions.

“Ambulances are for emergencies and we respond to on a case-by-case basis, depending on each medical emergency and priority. The closest ambulance available is sent to a medical emergency.

“We remain committed to improving our performance and delivering the best patient outcomes possible.”