It started with the ambulances. Queensland recorded its fourth-highest number of triple-0 calls for a single day last Monday with paramedics waiting up to three hours to offload patients and nine ambulances waiting outside a major hospital because there were no beds.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath was flummoxed. ‘I don’t think anyone can explain why we saw a 40 per cent increase in code ones,’ she told journalists. ‘We had a lot of heart attacks and chest pains and breathing/respiratory issues. Sometimes you can’t explain why those things happen.’
Ambulance ‘ramping’ has been at crisis point in every state in Australia over the summer.
In Western Australia, just 70 per cent of priority one emergency call outs in March were responded to within 15 minutes. March was also the busiest month ever for paramedics in Tasmania with a 15 per cent increase in callouts. Ambulance Victoria experienced its busiest quarter on record, a 16 per cent increase on the same period last year. In South Australia, ramping was so bad that it became an election issue. Paramedics in New South Wales were so angry about staff shortages that they went on strike this week.
Part of the problem was the callous and stupid decision to sack paramedics during a pandemic because they refused to be immunised with a vaccine which, as it turns out, has almost no efficacy in preventing infection with the omicron variant. So, staff numbers have been reduced by mandates, by infection with omicron, and by the need to quarantine.
But what explains the increase in demand which has occurred in summer, not during the winter flu season? It’s not the pandemic. NSW, for example, has a combined private and government hospital capacity of 12,500 beds including 1,000 in intensive care units, but there are only 1,583 people admitted to hospitals ‘with’ Covid, and only 71 in intensive care. The chief executive of Ambulance Tasmania offered a clue saying that while a lot of the patients had respiratory complaints or chest pain in line with Covid, there was also an increase in mental health cases and in falls. What caused them?