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March 23, 2022

Production of documents – Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority

I rise to make some brief comments on the Opposition’s documents motion.

I continue to despair at issues around ambulance response times, repeat failures of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority system, hospital ramping and the ripple effects across the whole health system. There is nothing more important than community safety – and this includes the safe response to people who are critically ill and require urgent care. It must be absolutely terrifying for someone to call and call for an ambulance and there’s no one answering that call.

My advocacy around this issue started when I spoke with Indigo Shire back in 2019 about the ambulance response times in their area – which were some of the worst response times in the state, and still are to date.

Around the same time, I was contacted by a constituent – Tony Hubbard from Seymour, who had lost his wife, Gayle.  ESTA told them the ambulance was on its way, but couldn’t – wouldn’t – tell them how long they would have to wait. They waited more than 40 minutes and Mrs Hubbard passed away during this time.  Back then, I urged ESTA to change their script, so that people are given an estimate of the wait time and can make a judgement on other action they might take, if they have capacity and need to.

In Mr Hubbard’s circumstances, if he had known they would be waiting more than 40 minutes, he would have taken his wife to hospital himself – which was just around the corner; he could see the hospital from his back verandah.

It seems that ESTA has changed the script now – and we’re hearing that in some cases people are simply being told an ambulance will not be dispatched.

What’s not clear is whether they are being given any alternatives, such as being directed to nurse on call or another service. Just on this, I know that sometimes ambulances can be diverted to other jobs, and this is largely the reason that people were not given an indication of the wait time for an ambulance response. But, it still astounds me that you can track delivery of a pizza on your app, but not for an ambulance. 

Mr Hubbard campaigned for a 24-hour service in Seymour and gathered thousands of signatures from residents in support. There is consistent feedback from across my electorate there are not enough ambulances in the system to meet the specific needs of regional areas, including the challenges of typography – and this stems from before COVID.

I don’t think we can underestimate how stressful this is for the workforce either – across all parts of the system – and I express our thanks, on behalf of myself and my colleague Stuart Grimley MP, to the emergency service workers, in our electorates and across the state.

I believe the Minister for Emergency Services is sincere in trying to get the service back to an acceptable level and I hope that the review being conducted by Mr Graham Ashton into ESTA capability will deliver strong improvements. I also hope that the money now being made available to address this issue will bear fruit – and fast.

We hope that the review being conducted specific to ESTA will not preclude the government from giving consideration to initiating or expanding other initiatives that could help meet demand in the system, particularly in the Ambulance Services portfolio.

This includes programs like the ‘first responder’ pilot, where Country Fire Authority units offer level two first aid response to code one call-outs.  I know the Kiewa CFA is very keen to participate, with 80 per cent of its members first aid-trained and lifesaving equipment at the ready. 

In regional areas, where people can wait 25 minutes, or two hours, or at the moment might be told an ambulance won’t be coming – this could be a real game changer for accessing emergency care.

The community paramedic care model is another – Ambulance Victoria is trialling this with Mallee Track Health and Community Service and Tallangatta Health Service and I believe this trial will be completed mid-year.

My colleague Stuart Grimley MP and I have both met with HMS Collective about its community paramedic program, and we wrote to the Minister for Health and Ambulance Services in this regard last year. This model is based on systems in the United Kingdom and Canada, where instead of treating people in hospital with minor ailments, community members are treated at home. This develops longer term relationships with health workers and prevents issues from becoming too serious. Anecdotally, some of their patients have gone from calling an ambulance service up to seven times a week, to none.

The workers at HMS Collective are registered paramedics. Their work doesn’t replace triple zero, but it aims to free up hospitals and ambulance paramedics. They estimate their service of just 20 workers saves 90 hours of ambulance transport every week – imagine if this was expanded!  I’m told that funding a private business operating in a marketplace is not within the scope of the Department of Health’s role in commissioning services within the public health system.  Perhaps, in this time of crisis, its time to widen the scope.

In closing, we will be supporting this documents motion – recognising that perhaps some of the documents included may not be able to be provided for various reasons, but we support transparency on such an important issue.