PARAMEDICS are being forced to sit by their patients for up to two hours at Albury and Wodonga hospitals because of a lack of beds.
Their vehicles are being “ramped” at the hospitals on a daily basis, preventing crews from heading out on new calls.
A Border health worker told The Border Mail the situation reached a crisis point yesterday, with Albury Wodonga Health placing Wodonga on what is called a “double code red” and Albury on a “code red”.
Peter (not his real name) said that meant Wodonga had no beds available.
He said there was concern Wodonga patients would have to go to Wangaratta instead if the situation continued.
Two Wodonga ambulance crews and one from Corryong spent up to 2½ hours with their patients as they lay on stretchers yesterday.
Patients are being triaged, then forced to wait on the ambulance stretcher — under the paramedics’ supervision and treatment — until a ward bed becomes available.
Albury Wodonga Health chief executive Stuart Spring emphasised that treatment began on patients as soon as they arrived at hospital.
“It’s not as if patients are lying in the ambulance, they are actually treated on the stretchers in the hospital,” he said.
“But if we haven’t got a bed, we haven’t got a bed.”
Dr Spring acknowledged the recent revamp of Wodonga’s emergency department had not provided more beds, “though they are better beds”.
“Wodonga’s probably better than Albury because Albury — being the acute centre — gets a larger number of ambulances,” he said.
“We are hoping we are going to open some short-stay beds adjoining the Albury emergency department within the next few weeks.”
Dr Spring said this might have some impact on the problem, which was becoming more common on the Border.
“We have been noticing that the number of category one to three patients to the emergency department has been increasing by about 7 per cent a year,” he said.
“It’s not going away and quite frankly in the size that the Albury emergency department is, it’s always going to be very difficult to avoid the problem.”
Dr Spring said the answer for Albury was a new emergency department.
“We’re at the very early planning stages for that, but it’s got a long way to go,” he said.
A category-one patient is someone who has to be seen immediately on arrival, such as people who have suffered a major trauma or a heart attack.
Dr Spring said such a response happened “100 per cent of the time”.
Category-two patients must be seen within 10 minutes and category three within 40 minutes.
Ambulance Victoria regional manager Garry Cook said there were peaks and troughs in emergency ambulance workloads and the number of patients taking themselves to hospital emergency departments.
Mr Cook said that was what had been seen in the Albury-Wodonga area over the past couple of days.
“We work closely with Albury Wodonga Health, and other hospitals around the region, to minimise the time our paramedics spend in emergency departments,” he said.