Ambulance response times slammed

By Rhys Williams

Indigo Shire Mayor Bernard Gaffney and Member for Benambra Bill Tilley have criticized the state government’s inaction on improving the shire’s ambulance response times.

Despite the Victorian Labor state government injecting $109 million into improving ambulance services in its 19/20 budget, the states most fraught area for response times, Indigo Shire, seems to have been neglected from funding.

Northern Victoria Labor MP Mark Gepp announced to the media last week that the funding would include recruitment of more than 90 paramedics, 23 extra vehicles on the road, converting 15 single crew ambulance stations to dual crew, and upgrading and building new stations. 

But with the budget failing to identify Indigo Shire as a recipient, local Liberal MP Bill Tilley has slammed the state government’s inaction.  

“This week we saw the Labor Upper House member want to claim great improvements in ambulance response times while at the same time he has Indigo Shire in his patch with the worst figures in the state,” Mr Tilley told the Free Press.

You can’t take all the credit and ignore the “elephant in the room”.

Mr Tilley and Mayor Gaffney met back in February to discuss the issue of response times in the shire and propose some potential solutions that could help, which is a dialougue that is still ongoing the member for Benambra said.

“I know there are calls for extra resources – that it’s just a case of adding a few paramedics,” Mr Tilley said.

“The issue is a little more complex than that with various parts of the shire supported by Wodonga and even the NSW Ambulance in Corowa.

“Would a volunteer Community Emergency Response Team like Yackandandah make people feel safer, is it Ambulance Community Officers like Chiltern who can transport people to hospital or is a full ambulance response such as Corowa still the best outcome?”     

Mayor Gaffney has taken matters into his own hands and is urging the state government to intervene immediately on the issue and provide more resources to the shire.

“We are calling on the state government to put in more resources – whether in the form of a new station or more paramedics – to service Indigo Shire residents to improve response times for critically ill people.

“With a growing population, something’s got to give, and we will continue to do everything we can to advocate for Indigo Shire to get better emergency care,” he said.

Indigo Shire has the worst response times for code one incidents in the state. In the third quarter of 2018/19, only 24.5 per cent of code one incidents in Indigo Shire were responded to in under 15 minutes.  This is alarmingly lower than the state average of 84.2 per cent.  

 The average response time for code one incidents in Indigo Shire was 22:11 minutes. This compared to Wangaratta with an average response time of 11:44 minutes and Wodonga with an average response time of 10:24 minutes for code one incidents. 

 The shire has an ambulance station at Beechworth and volunteer community emergency response teams at Chiltern and Yackandandah which respond to triple-0 calls.

“Our paramedics do a fantastic job and we appreciate the lifesaving work that they do, however the fact remains that Indigo Shire is under-resourced with only one ambulance station,” Councillor Gaffney said.  

 Cr Gaffney has met with Ambulance Victoria representatives and has written to the Minister for Emergency Services expressing his concerns.  

 “The minister reasons that the slow response is because we live in a rural and remote area,” he said. 

 “We are very grateful that the member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP raised this issue in parliament with the minister this week. We look forward to the minister’s response to our local member.” 

  Ms Maxwell said quick response times have a direct effect on patient outcomes.  

 “It’s imperative we see improvement in the number of cases that meet the benchmark,” Ms Maxwell said: “We all appreciate the challenges of topography and geography in country areas, however this just adds to the call for additional attention to the needs of the region.” 

Mr Gaffney reiterated his commitment to advocating for action on this issue.  

 “I have requested a meeting with the minister to discuss the government’s response,” he said. 

 “In the interim, I want to stress to Indigo Shire residents the importance of calling 000 in the event of an emergency.”