THE problem of unfilled paramedic shifts in the Hume region doubled last year, forcing Border residents with serious conditions to wait up to 38 minutes for an ambulance.
Figures produced by Victoria’s Labor opposition show 518 ambulance shifts were not filled last year — up from 252.
But Ambulance Victoria said Labor’s figure needed to be kept in perspective.
“Each day we roster more than 620 shifts — each year we roster more than 240,000 shifts and almost 99 per cent of those shifts operate as scheduled,” Hume regional manager Garry Cook said.
“An unfilled shift doesn’t mean there is not an ambulance available.
“We often team our managers or ambulance community officers with a paramedic to form a crew, ensuring we can provide a response in local areas.”
The ambulance union has also taken aim at emergency response times as being a concern.
It took an average 22 minutes for paramedics to respond to code 1 incidents from July 2011 to October last year in the Wodonga area. The wait at Wangaratta was 30 minutes.
And it was worse at Tallangatta and Beechworth where there was 37 to 38-minute wait.
While Mr Cook agreed regional cities were supposed to meet a government 15-minute benchmark, they were often responding to incidents in towns more than 15 minutes drive away.
He cited Chiltern, in Wodonga’s area, as a trip that took more than 20 minutes.
“Our aim is to deliver an ambulance to Wodonga within 15 minutes,” he said,
“It’s reasonable within communities adjourning regional cities that it will take longer than that to get the nearest ambulance to them.”
Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said the fundamental issue was ambulances not being properly staffed.
As a result, paramedics had to work harder and longer to fill the gaps.
Mr McGhie also said paramedics were telling him every day that they were forced to work beyond their knock-off time to make up for a lack of resources. Some worked 15 to 16 hours straight without a meal break.
Senior paramedic at Wodonga Scott Burns urged Victoria’s Health Minister David Davis to check conditions himself.
“You turn up to some jobs and you’re 30 minutes late — and we’re the ones who cop the abuse and the disappointment from patients,” Mr Burns said.
“He needs to get out and see what’s going on instead of sitting behind his desk in Melbourne.”