QUEENSLANDERS are being urged to only call an ambulance if it is an absolute emergency as paramedics struggle to cope with record demand triggered by an unprecedented flu outbreak.
More than 19,200 people have contracted the flu in Queensland so far this year, resulting in a 13 percent increase in calls made to Triple Zero (000), most of which came from the state’s southeast.
In the past fortnight alone, the Queensland Ambulance Service has experienced eight of its ten busiest days on record for critical Code 1 incidents.
There has been a 22 percent increase in critical Code 1 cases in the past week, compared to the same period last year.
Last Monday was the busiest, with 613 more calls than normal made to Triple Zero.
As a result of the record demand, 40 new frontline paramedics will be deployed across the southeast.
Nineteen of these paramedics will be based on the Gold Coast, 15 in Brisbane and six in the West Moreton area.
The extra services were made possible thanks to the State Government’s $10 million Emergency Care Action Plan which was implemented last month.
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick said the government has also increased hospital capacity.
“Our $15 million Winter Beds Strategy has also provided access to an extra 90 hospital beds during surges and in areas of high demand,” he said.
“These initiatives have gone a long way to help meet the increasing demand but we also need support from the community, which is why we’re asking the public to keep our ambulances and emergency departments for emergencies only.”
QAS Acting Commissioner Dee Taylor-Dutton said strategies were put in place prior to the flu season to cope with the predicted extra workload.
“Despite this unprecedented demand, we’ve still been able to respond to our most critical patients within our optimum timeframes, but those with less serious conditions may need to wait a bit longer than usual for an ambulance,” she said.
“We expect it will be another week before the demand subsides.
“I also want to ask Queenslanders to do their bit to help reduce the flu burden by using QAS’ finite resources responsibly, which means only calling an ambulance if it’s vital to do so.”
QAS Medical Director Dr Stephen Rashford said many flu patients were leaving it too late to seek help and ended up in hospital with cardiac and respiratory issues.
“In a lot of cases they’re having trouble breathing and those sort of symptoms require a Code 1 response,” Dr Rashford said.
“We’re also seeing patients who have experienced several days of sickness at home reach a point where they require an ambulance to get them to hospital.”
Mr Dick has called on the Turnbull Government to abandon proposed cuts to funding for the national After Hours Home Doctor Service.
“Media reports today indicate that access to after-hours doctors could collapse and emergency departments across Australia could be overrun with one million additional patients if the Turnbull Government halves the Medicare rebate for home visits,” Mr Dick said.
“Any cuts to the Medicare rebate for the home doctor service would be a disaster for our state’s public hospitals and ambulance service.
“More importantly, it would make life harder for sick Queenslanders,” Mr Dick said.
A recent Deloitte Access Economics report on the impact of the home doctor service showed that 762,000 Queenslanders accessed the home doctor service last financial year.
The report also noted that from a survey of 50,000 home doctor patients across the country last year, 56 percent said they would have called an ambulance or attended an emergency department if they couldn’t access a home visit.
It also shows that the average patient self-presenting at an emergency department costs taxpayers $368. This cost soars to $1,351 if patients request an ambulance.
By contrast, an urgent after-hours consultation with a home doctor costs the healthcare system on average just $128.
Mr Dick said it is clear that any changes to the home doctor service will see even more pressure on our public hospitals and the Queensland Ambulance Service.