Leaked confidential minutes from Ambulance Victoria showed emergency callers faced potentially life threatening delays after the system experienced a code red crisis last month with no vehicles available for many illnesses.
The state’s emergency phone service experienced a three-minute call delay at 12.30am on the night of June 28 when the deadline for responding to critical cases is an average of just five seconds, the minutes revealed by The Australian showed.
The delays left Melbourne without ambulances for a crucial period of midweek demand over around four hours as the Victorian government has been slammed for the crisis, which has seen at least 12 people die while waiting for an ambulance since October.
Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), which is responsible for responding to emergency calls and dispatching ambulances, has faced fierce criticism with the government vowing to overhaul the organisation as the November election looms.
The minutes showed that Ambulance Victoria held crisis talks in the early hours of June 28 after a 30-minute period of code red triggers, with “multiple” cases of code 1 – or lights and sirens – emergencies with “0 per cent fleet availability”.
Ambulance Victoria director of emergency management Justin Dunlop said he did not believe anyone had died during the code red crisis and the issues were dealt with in a quick and orderly fashion.
He added that there were 21 ambulances on meal breaks but critical situations such as cardiac arrests would have been able to be dealt with.
An ESTA spokeswoman said any delay is unacceptable and the agency is working hard to recruit and train even more call takers to make sure people calling triple-0 have the help they need, when they need it.
Victorian Ambulance Union general secretary Danny Hill said the system was being strongly resourced with new paramedics but said demand for ambulances was “crushing”.
Victoria’s beleaguered ambulance service enacted crisis protocols on July 10 as well due to the winter Covid-19 wave and staff shortages stretching resources to breaking point.
Ambulance Victoria early on the Sunday morning sounded its second “code red” in a fortnight due to extreme demand across Melbourne.
The crisis protocol was in place for 90 minutes from about 2am after a surge in calls around midnight.
It was the seventh time in as many months that the service has been forced to sound a code red and comes after staff shortages forced similar action nearly two weeks ago.
On July 10, Ambulance Victoria executive director of operational communications Lindsay Mackay on Sunday admitted the situation was expected to remain a challenging one.
She said while not in a “precarious situation”, the service had been forced to deal with at least 170 staff absences ever day over the past week.