Victoria’s hospital and ambulance system under record pressure, data shows

Victoria’s beleaguered health system experienced record strain under the weight of the Omicron wave at the start of the year, fresh government data shows.

The Victorian Health Services Performance statistics show about one third of urgent code 1 ambulance patients waited more than the target time during the March quarter.

The number of call-outs surged during the same period, at a time when record numbers of paramedics were furloughed after being exposed to COVID-19.

The pressure was being felt across the state’s hospital emergency departments, which treated nearly 2,000 more patients than the previous quarter while battling through staff shortages.

“What these figures tell us is that our hospital system, our ambulance system, continues to be under significant pressure from COVID-19,” Health Minister Martin Foley said.

The figures cover January through to March, when the deadly Omicron wave took hold on the country. 

“Whilst for most of us, life is starting to look like something approaching normal… that is certainly not the case when it comes to our hard-working healthcare and paramedic workforce,” Mr Foley said.

“Not just here in Victoria, but indeed both nationally and indeed globally, our health systems continue to be under huge pressure.”

An ambulance officer wheels a COVID-19 patient into a treatment room.
A rise in people needing urgent care was exacerbated by staff shortages.(Supplied: Emma Hall)

COVID-related hospitalisations peaked at about 1,200 at the height of the Omicron wave, at a time when an average of 5,000 hospital workers and 500 paramedics were furloughed each day.

About 1,500 hospital and ambulance workers are now furloughed each day on average.

Busiest quarter in Ambulance Victoria’s history

Ambulance Victoria responded to 93,234 code 1 incidents between January and March, a 14.2 per cent increase on a year earlier.

Code 1 cases represent urgent “lights and sirens” emergencies.

Ambulance Victoria Acting CEO Libby Murphy said the surge made the three-month period the “busiest in Ambulance Victoria’s history”.

Paramedics responded to 66.8 per cent of those calls within the 15-minute target set by the state.

That figure is a slight improvement from the previous quarter, when 66 per cent of patients were met within that window.

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