In recent weeks we have heard the same old tired story from AV, the Health Minister and others in the media that the current record demand for ambulance services in Victoria is a result of COVID-19. The once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that no one saw coming, and that no one in AV or the government can be held responsible for. This has been a convenient deflection from the real story which indicates that AV should have been prepared.
The catch cry is that the current crisis is the result of record demand. The reality is that the record demand was expected, as every year demand goes up. AV expect demand to increase and to set new records every year. Since 2011 demand for ambulances has increased every year (except 2016/17 when the Referral system kicked in). So why is this used as an excuse for the current pressures on the system, when those in power knew all they needed to know to plan ahead?
COVID-19 caused the increased demand
The second false claim out there is that COVID-19 has caused the record demand. The figures reported by AV and published on their website do not support this. AV reports on Code 1 and Code 2 cases and the response times. The current Code 1 and Code 2 demand is less than was expected pre-COVID. From Quarter 4 (Q4) 2016/17 to Q4 2018/19 Code 1 cases increased by 10298 (15.7%). From Q4 2018/19 to Q4 2020/21 Code 1 cases increased by 8705 (11.5%).
Including the Code 2 case numbers makes it even clearer that the increase in demand should have been expected and that forward planning should have resulted in sufficient resources in place to cover the predictable increase in demand.
Who gains and who loses?
A sceptic may say that this is a political ploy by the Victorian government to paint themselves as the white nights riding in with buckets of money for additional resources. The question could be asked whether the government would get as much kudos if they just ticked along keeping resources sufficient to cover demand. What better headline on the 6pm News than the government committing to record additional investment. Would the media even run the story if resources were sufficient and maintained every year without needing to respond to a crisis? What’s the bet that come the 2022 state election we hear about the record investment in ambulance and the response to the crisis.
The harm this causes is that it forces AV to push everyone harder and harder to maintain response times. Then when a crisis happens it takes 12 months or more for the effects of the new investment to have an impact. Then 12 months later the demand has continued to increase and resources start to be stretched again. This continuous cycle is a result of short-term thinking and inadequate planning and puts AV staff and the public at risk more often than not.
The AEAV calls on the Victorian government to stop the crisis-investment-crisis roundabout and to start funding health services, and particularly ambulance, for tomorrow, not yesterday. The welfare of the public and AV staff should not be traded off for headlines on the 6 o’clock news.