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'Groundhog Day': Ambos demand Govt act on endless cycle of ramping

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Paramedics say they’ve been “abandoned” by the Health Minister and are calling on him to “stand up to” the Treasurer to demand more money to fix ramping, after yet another day of ambulances and patients being forced into lengthy waits outside hospital emergency departments.

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Ambulance Employees Association general secretary Phil Palmer told InDaily that the system was “overwhelmed”, workload was “way out of control”, patients’ lives were at risk and it was time for Health Minister Stephen Wade to intervene.

He said if the system could not handle an average day in Adelaide, it was sure to fail in a genuine emergency.

“We can’t cope with the ordinary – we’ve got no hope of coping with the extraordinary,” he said.

His comments came as the Opposition released a video taken by a paramedic, showing a line of ambulances ramped outside the Royal Adelaide Hospital yesterday.

Opposition health spokesman Chris Picton said there were 24 ambulances ramped for longer than the 30-minute benchmark outside the RAH over a three hour period yesterday, from 3.40pm to 6.40pm, with an average ramp time of one hour and 48 minutes.

“At the moment we don’t have flu cases, we don’t have COVID cases going to hospital, what we have is a significant pressure on our health system that shows every sign of getting worse, not better,” he said.

Palmer said it was “Groundhog Day” and despite years of paramedic pleas to fix ramping, it was as bad as ever.

“Maybe we should start reporting days when there’s not ramping – the unique occurrence now is days without ramping,” he said.

“The system is overwhelmed here with just business as usual.

“If we get hit with something down the track, it’s going to be a disaster.

“It’s a failure of the Government to put capacity into the system. They promised it before the election and it’s worse, not better. It’s as bad now as it ever has been and it continues to get worse.”

Palmer said “the Government just doesn’t care – couldn’t care less”.

“We say the Minister for Health has just abandoned the ambulance service altogether,” he said.

“It’s being run by (Treasurer) Rob Lucas now. The Treasury control the funding. We don’t think the Minister is advocating for the ambulance service at all.

“I think he should stand up to Rob Lucas. I think he won’t but I think he should.

“The Minister should stick up for the ambulance service and demand the funding be provided to give the service the crews it needs to do the job properly and safely because it’s not safe at the moment.”

Palmer said there was even ramping on Christmas day, traditionally a “pretty quiet” time.

“We had crews for instance on Christmas day, because of ramping and workload, who didn’t even get a break,” he said.

Palmer said “the problem is what it always has been… there’s just not enough capacity in the system”.

“Nurses say it’s still taking hours to move patients out of (the RAH) ED because there’s no beds available in the wards and the wards are taking hours and hours… to get a bed cleaned, he said.

“The patients in the ambulance are there for an extraordinary period of time being ramped and it’s not a hospital ward – the beds are hard and they’re not designed to take patients for protracted periods.

“But worse, there’s patients in the community who need an ambulance who can’t get one because there’s lots of ambulances ramped. It’s denying the community ambulances.”

He questioned what would happen if there was a major COVID outbreak.

“If it got out of control like it has in England for instance… if there was a lot of illness in the community and the hospitals are getting more and more filled up… the system wouldn’t cope, it would fail,” he said.

“There will be ambulances ramped for hours in every hospital. It would be worse than it is now and there would be people dying in the community more than there are now because they can’t get an ambulance.

“We say there’s already deaths in the community because of lack of ambulances, already as we speak.”

Picton said the emergency departments of five of Adelaide’s six major hospitals – the RAH, Queen Elizabeth, Flinders, Noarlunga and Lyell McEwin – were all operating at Code White yesterday, “the highest level of overcrowding”.

“There were also ambulances significantly delayed at Flinders and Lyell McEwin as well,” he said.

“It really starts off the new year in a horrible way for our health system.

“This is sadly yet another instance of what is becoming a continual pattern where ramping has gone from being an occasional exceptional dangerous circumstance to being a weekly, if not almost daily, dangerous circumstance that our paramedics, doctors and nurses are having to put up with.

“We were told by the Government that they were going to end ramping as of the 30th of June last year but here we see into 2021 and ramping kicks off in a huge way… which also impacts upon waiting times for ambulances in the community.”

He said in one case in the city yesterday, it took 46 minutes for an ambulance to even be dispatched to a patient classified as “priority two”, the second most serious category.

In a statement, Wade said “ramping is unacceptable and, unlike our predecessors, we are actively addressing it”.

“Every hospital network experiences peaks and troughs.  The Marshall Government is building our capacity to cope with surges when they come,” he said.

“We are rolling out innovative services such as Priority Care Centres and a new Urgent Mental Health Care Centre which are providing more appropriate pathway for patients and easing pressure on our EDs.

“We are investing millions to upgrade and expand our Emergency Departments.  Our landmark $86 million Southern Health Expansion Plan is transforming the FMC ED into the biggest the state has ever seen.”

Wade said the Government had increased resources to the ambulance service, with 187 full time equivalent staff added since 2018 and 46 new vehicles last year.

“We thank our paramedics and all frontline health staff for the incredible work they are doing during these unprecedented times,” he said.

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