With the release today of Bureau of Health Information data covering the July-September quarter, the union representing NSW Ambulance (NSWA)’s Paramedic workforce have warned emergency response times are now dangerously long, even with call volumes still suppressed by the impacts of COVID-19.
The Australian Paramedics Association (NSW) say despite reduced demand, NSWA is failing on key performance metrics; including on response times to ‘P1A’ calls: those classified at the highest priority emergency level.
“Usually, ambulance response numbers grow steadily quarter to quarter, but demand fell a full 20% at the start of the pandemic, and is still sitting below where it was this time last year”, said Chris Kastelan, a working Paramedic and President of APA (NSW).
“Even so, NSW Ambulance are failing to deliver on their own performance indicators. This quarter, only 67% of P1As received an ambulance within 10 minutes, which is actually a decrease from last year.
“In an emergency, response time is absolutely critical. For something like a cardiac arrest, if an ambulance doesn’t arrive within about 6 minutes then it’s often already too late.”
The union is particularly concerned by poor performance figures in a year where venue closures, less commuting, and other limitations on work and social life have resulted in fewer emergency call-outs; and widespread fears of virus exposure have kept many non-essential cases out of ambulances, emergency departments and the broader healthcare system.
NSW has also never had more Paramedics, with 2020 seeing an additional intake class in response to COVID-19; in addition to the ongoing Statewide Workforce Enhancement Program which promised to deliver 700 new Paramedics over four years to 2021.
“To be failing patients under these conditions is a stark warning of what’s to come as regulations ease, and many types of work, social, community and family gatherings pick up again,” said Mr. Kastelan.
“All reasonable predictions point toward a ‘rebound’ whereby call-outs will rise rapidly and steeply. The data suggests that NSW Ambulance is not equipped for this.”
APA (NSW) says outdated deployment modelling is to blame for slow response times, with NSW Ambulance failing to update baseline staffing numbers to meet increased demand.
“It’s no surprise we’re not meeting response times when NSW Ambulance continues to insist on staffing stations according to 2010 demand. Despite the best efforts of hardworking Paramedics, the NSW public are currently being let down by an ambulance service that isn’t being resourced or run properly.”