Ambulance call answer times stretch out in Victoria
The Productivity Commission on Thursday released the health component of its Government Services 2023 report, which highlights Australia’s state emergency services.
It showed that the proportion of triple-zero calls to an ambulance that were answered by an operator in 10 seconds or less fell to 81.3 percent in 2021/22, compared to 89.2 percent in 2020 previous financial year.
Victoria performed worst of all states and territories, with about two in three calls (65.6 percent) answered within 10 seconds, compared to 88.9 percent in 2020-21.
Results worsened in all jurisdictions except Western Australia, but only Victoria fell below 85 per cent.
Victoria’s triple-zero call-answering service, the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), was thrown into disarray after COVID-19 restrictions were eased in October 2021.
Response times in the state hit record lows during the first Omicron wave in January 2022, and a report linked 33 deaths to call delays.
The Victorian Government has since committed to overhauling the service, providing $333 million to hire and train nearly 400 additional callers.
A Victorian Government spokesman said ESTA has met or exceeded its monthly call-handling target of answering 90 percent of 911 ambulance calls in five seconds or less each year since 2015 before the ripples during the pandemic.
Call handling performance has improved since January 2022 and the government claims credit for providing “significant funding” to the service before and during the pandemic.
“Nearly 99 percent of calls in January were answered within five seconds – a record,” the spokesman said.
“ESTA notes that it has met and exceeded the benchmark of 90 percent of calls answered in five seconds every month since August.”
But opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the government was far too late to invest in the state’s triple-zero scheme after several warnings.
“Unfortunately too many Victorians and their families have paid a very heavy and sad price,” she said.
Victorian Ambulance Union secretary-general Danny Hill said each state and territory needed more call-takers to meet rising demand, but figures showed the problem was more pronounced in Victoria.
“More could have been done,” he told AAP.
“We saw specific performance issues at Victoria stemming from simply not having enough staff.
“The government recruited quickly when the problem became fairly well known and put the service back where it should have been. But it should never happen.”
The Productivity Commission’s report shows that last fiscal year, 4.2 million emergency service incidents were reported nationwide and 5.3 million responses involving an ambulance call.
There can be multiple responses to an incident.
State and territory ambulance response times were longest in South Australia (58.3 minutes), NSW (36.8 minutes) and Tasmania (34 minutes), although data from SA cannot be compared for technical reasons.
TRIPLE ZERO CALL RESPONSE TIMES BY JURISDICTION FROM 2020/21 TO 2021/22
(Percentage of ambulance calls answered by callers in 10 seconds or less)
* NSW – 94.1 per cent to 86.7 per cent
* Victoria – 88.9 percent to 65.6 percent
* Queensland – 89.1 to 85.8 percent
* WA – 83.8 percent to 86.5 percent
* SA – 95.4 percent to 92.9 percent
* Tasmania – 95.2 percent to 92 percent
* ACT – 95.2 percent to 95.1 percent
* NT – 89.2 percent to 87.1 percent
SOURCE: The Productivity Commission