Surge in ambulance ramping

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Liberals deputy leader Libby Mettam addresses the media.
Camera IconLiberals deputy leader Libby Mettam addresses the media. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian, Kelsey Reid Picture: Kelsey Reid

New figures showing ambulance crews ramped up outside of regional hospitals indicates the South West health system is straining under similar pressure to Perth, according to Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam.

The Vasse MLA told the Times ambulances sitting idle for hours on end was no longer just a city issue, with St John Ambulance crews tied up waiting for service for 126 hours in total last month, and the worst incidences in Bunbury represented an “alarming increase”. “We have seen a shocking upward trend in this problem since the McGowan Labor Government was elected, and no real solutions to help solve it,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s the patients in the back of those ambulances who are paying the price as they wait hours on end, often in serious pain, for our overstretched hospitals to be able to admit them.”

In May 2017, ambulances were ramped for only seven hours across Bunbury, Albany, Geraldton and Northam hospitals. But the worsening problem was reflected in the latest figures, which identified Bunbury Regional Hospital as a hotspot, ramped for 98 hours last month compared with just four hours in May 2017.

Ms Mettam said ambulances tied up waiting to deliver patients also had a worrying knock-on effect on response times to priority incidents.

St John Ambulance country ambulance operation manager Simon Hughes echoed the MP’s concerns.

“Ramping of ambulance crews reduces the number of ambulances available to respond to calls in the community,” he said.

“St John works closely with WA Country Health Service when ramping occurs to free crews to allow them to attend to community calls.

“St John paramedics and volunteers are keen to provide their service to the community.

“When ramped, crews are unable to respond, and this can cause longer response times.”

A spokesman for Health Minister Roger Cook chided Ms Mettam for missing a debate in Parliament on these issues.

“The State Government has delivered on its election commitment, completing the State’s first ever country ambulance strategy in 2019,” the spokesman said.

The Government was also rolling out steps to address shortfalls, including an extra $10 million announced last fortnight to recruit more paid paramedics, which included five in Bunbury, he said.

The minister’s spokesman forecast another 18 paramedics for regional WA.

“Separate to this, the State Government is committed to a $200 million redevelopment of Bunbury Hospital, the major regional hospital in the South West which will significantly increase bed capacity and ED capacity,” he said.

WACHS spokeswoman acknowledged pressure on Bunbury Regional Hospital and outlined a “winter surge” agreement was in place with St John of God.

“While the facility has always been country WA’s biggest and busiest, we attribute the increase in presentations to a general increase in emergency demand across the State, emerging traditional winter pressures along with more people than ever before holidaying in the South West,” the spokeswoman said.

“WACHS is implementing a number of strategies to support staff to respond to increased activity and continue delivering safe patient care.”

Ms Mettam said the Government might “spin” her concerns, but the ramping was “irrefutable evidence that our health system is clearly in crisis”.

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