I had a conversation recently with a very concerned community member whom was the first person to arrive at a significant two-vehicle collision in northern Tasmania where three people were trapped.
He immediately called 000 and requested ambulance, police and fire service then assisted in rendering first aid to the trapped people until emergency services arrived.
Other services arrived in a very short time, however, Ambulance Tasmania did not.
The clock kept ticking. Even after 45 minutes there was no ambulance. An hour went by, and still no ambulance. The accident location was only 30 minutes from Launceston.
But this scenario is not an isolated episode.
Ambulance Tasmania has the worst response times to emergency calls in the country and they are increasing at an alarming rate.
In the past few years response times to emergency calls have increased from 23.9 to 31.4 minutes, adding a further 7 minutes to an already record high delay in getting an ambulance to a sick or injured person.
This is totally unacceptable and irresponsible especially when you compare emergency call response times in Queensland are an amazing 15 minutes and decreasing.
So, what is wrong with our ambulance service in Tasmania? Why does it take so long for Ambulance Tasmania to arrive at an emergency?
Perhaps ever-increasing ambulance response times are a flow-on effect from a failing health care system?
As our hospital system is choking on full wards, our emergency departments are becoming bedblocked and are unable to move their patients into wards.
Ambulance Tasmania has vehicles ramped outside emergency departments for hours at a time as they are unable to hand over patients. This happens daily.
There are simply no ambulance vehicles available to respond to an emergency call. Add to this unfilled ambulance shifts due to staff shortages and fatigue and we have a compounding response time issue.
Add to this a community expectation that you will get quicker treatment in hospital if you arrive by ambulance, then people err toward calling an ambulance for anything minor. This also reduces the number of vehicles to respond to actual emergency calls.
Demand for ambulance services in Tasmania has increased by 28 per cent in the past seven years.
This is 14 times the rate of our population growth. But where is the increase in funding? In 2011 government funded Ambulance Tasmania $54.4 million, however, in 2017 this funding had been reduced to $53.3 million.
This is $1.1 million less than seven years prior even though demand for ambulances has increased 28 per cent over this period.
Clearly, the current Hodgman Liberal Government must have the attitude “do more for less” and has failed to fund our state’s health services including Ambulance Tasmania.
Last year our intrepid paramedics responded to more than 92,364 requests for service of which 43,064 calls were deemed to be an emergency.
Our paramedics work incredibly hard and are very well-respected healthcare professionals, achieving a satisfaction score of 98/100 from Tasmanians, but they are in desperate need of adequate funding to meet the current and future demand for service.
This demand for Ambulance Services will increase as our population ages in Tasmania and without adequate funding to all areas of our healthcare system Tasmanians are in for a rough time of it in the future. In fact, Tasmanians have already spoken and rated Ambulance Tasmania’s response times a satisfaction score of 50/100 and this again is the worst in the country.
I consider that increasing demand for ambulance services accompanied by reduced Liberal Government funding is leaving Tasmanians in a very precarious position when an emergency ambulance is needed.
This article was originally published in The Mercury on Friday 7 December 2018.
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