Worst flu season on record: Ambulances, hospitals meet challenge

By Vanessa Wiltshire

VICTORIANS are waiting less time than ever before for elective surgery and urgent specialist appointments, despite huge surges in the number of people attending hospitals driven by an unprecedented flu season, new data shows.

Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Jenny Mikakos released the hospital and ambulance performance data for the September quarter last Friday.

She thanked doctors, nurses and paramedics for rising to meet record demand.

“Victoria’s hospitals and ambulance service have done a tremendous job keeping up their high levels of patient care — during our worst flu season on record,” Ms Mikakos said.

The flu season started early and hit hard with more than 66,000 laboratory-confirmed cases, meaning hospitals had to treat far more patients than anticipated this winter. The State Government recently topped up hospital funding with a $200 million flu package.

The latest statewide performance data shows hospitals saw 474,175 patients in emergency departments — 23,300 more than a year earlier. Despite this, 100 per cent of the Category 1 most urgent patients were treated immediately upon arrival.

Ambulance services also managed the largest number of emergency cases for the quarter with 78,130 Code 1 callouts to September. This is up from 69,753 in the same quarter a year earlier.

Despite the additional pressure on hospitals, elective surgery patients received their operations quicker than ever before — with more than half of all elective patients receiving their operations within 26 days.

More than half of Category 1 urgent patients received their surgery within 10 days — well under the 30-day benchmark. More than half of all urgent patients saw a specialist within 16 days.

Bendigo Hospital provided operations for all of its Category 1 elective surgery patients within the benchmark 30 days, more than half of them within 15 days. Bendigo treated 1321 patients off its elective surgery waiting list — 77 more than for the same time a year earlier.

Paramedics managed more than 8300 extra callouts across the state in the September quarter, arriving within the benchmark of 15 minutes for 83.3 per cent of Code 1 calls — an improvement from 71.8 per cent in 2014 under the Liberal Nationals.

The City of Greater Bendigo’s times continue to improve, with Code 1 ambulances arriving in an average 11 minutes 51 seconds — an improvement on the 11:57 arrival time three months earlier.

In Bendigo, ambulances responded to 1724 Code 1 calls, up on the 1615 callouts in the June quarter. The Labor Government has invested $1 billion to deliver more paramedics, more vehicles and more stations. This includes a $299 million boost in the Victorian budget for 2019/20.