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A patient with serious spinal injuries was left waiting outside Sunshine Hospital in an ambulance for 14 hours on Monday just days after Australia’s leading doctors warned that hospitals across the country are at “breaking point”.
The state’s Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said it was by far the longest he had ever heard of a patient in the state being forced to wait outside a Victorian hospital.
A patient with serious spinal injuries was left waiting outside Sunshine Hospital in an ambulance for 14 hours.Credit:Paul Rovere
“This would be the worst we’ve ever heard occur,” Mr Hill said. “I have never heard of patient waiting this long in an ambulance for a bed.”
He said the patient, who was in chronic pain, was immobilised on a stretcher in the ambulance after falling at home.
Mr Hill said that since coronavirus restrictions had eased in Victoria the workload for paramedics had soared after people delayed medical treatment during the lockdown.
“We are regularly having patients who are waiting for 12 hours in ambulances outside hospitals,” he said. “These patients who have called in with chest pain, and potentially having a heart attack, who are waiting for two or three hours on the stretcher.”
He said in some cases paramedics were treating patients in crowded emergency departments or hospital corridors.
“They are having to treat these patients as if they are still on the side of the road,” he said.
The spate of patients waiting outside hospitals comes after the Australian Medical Association warned that hospitals across the country were too full to handle ongoing cases of coronavirus even at levels similar to the seasonal flu.
One in four ambulances is not reaching the most critically ill patients within the target time of 15 minutes. Ambulances are reaching that benchmark only 75.1 per cent of the time, down from about 79 per cent last quarter.
Doctors are reporting patients spending prolonged periods in intensive care and rehabilitation wards as they take longer to recover from postponed surgeries.
Others are arriving in droves at overrun emergency departments with chronic illnesses that have turned life-threatening after treatments were delayed last year because of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, it was revealed patients with heart attack symptoms and spinal injuries were being forced to wait in ambulances outside hospitals for as long as five hours in what paramedics and the AMA described as an “acute public health disaster”.
Health professionals say “ramping” – when ambulances wait outside emergency departments because no beds are available – has risen to an alarming level.
The ramping crisis came to a head in April this year after Melbourne woman Christina Lackmann, 32, died after waiting more than six hours for an ambulance after calling Triple Zero when she felt dizzy while cooking dinner at home in Carlton North.
Her death is being investigated by the state’s health watchdog.
The Age reported earlier this year, ambulance response times are at their worst since 2016-17 and Ambulance Victoria has instigated emergency protocols – where patients can be instructed to take taxis to hospital instead of waiting for ambulances – three times more this year than in the previous two years combined.
The state government announced in May it will spend $759 million to boost ambulance and hospital services to cope with a surge of demand heading into winter.
It committed to investing hundreds of millions of dollars to help divert people away from emergency rooms and attempt to improve the flow of patients through clogged emergency departments that are experiencing record demand.
State health ministers said in May their systems were being overrun due to unforeseen ill-health arising from the pandemic and called for more funding to deal with
The Age has contacted Western Health which oversees the running of Sunshine Hospital and Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley for comment.
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