Paramedic numbers game

WODONGA’S poor ambulance response times would not improve until the city had more paramedics, a state Opposition MP said yesterday.

Health spokesman Wade Noonan said creating a peak-period Wodonga ambulance unit covering a 10-to-12-hour shift “might actually assist in bringing down response times overall”.

But Wodonga simply could not have rosters with the numbers to guarantee improved response times.

The city’s response time is believed to be about 22 minutes, well off the government’s 15-minute target.

Mr Noonan said that “in a worst-case scenario, the lack of paramedics could cost lives in the area.

He said the Wodonga paramedics had come up with the commendable idea of a peak- period unit.

But Ambulance Victoria has argued that issues such as crew availability and hospital transfer times were just part of the measure of a quality service.

It said patient survival and quality of life for people suffering heart attacks, strokes and head trauma were continuing to improve across Victoria.

Mr Noonan said this year’s Productivity Commission report into government services, just released, showed response times across Victoria “are going backwards at an alarming rate”.

That revealed response times in Melbourne had blown out from the required 15 minutes to almost 19 minutes.

“The situation across Victoria is not much better, with statewide response times for life-threatening call-outs increasing to 22 minutes for 90 per cent of cases during the 2011-12 period, which is more than two minutes longer than when the Baillieu government took office,” he said.

Wodonga’s latest available response time was 21 minutes for 90 per cent of the 1006 cases in the first six months of last year.

The opposition has lodged a freedom of information request for the second half of last year, which Mr Noonan expected to show no improvement.

“Probably the most significant issue is rostering and unfilled shifts,” he said.

Mr Noonan said he had written to Health Minister David Davis in November, pointing out the Saturday night last year when there was just one Wodonga paramedic for a 14-hour shift.

Another freedom of information request had revealed there were 252 unfilled shifts across the Hume region in 2011.

“That meant the service could not operate to its actual capacity,” Mr Noonan said.

“The minister has been silent on these matters.”