The Victorian government has released a range of new measures to help under-the-pump paramedics as an average of 2000 staff are furloughed across the state’s healthcare system each day.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Victorian virtual emergency department’s capacity would be doubled as part of a $162m health package.
Now up to 500 patients per day can use the service, which lets people have video consultations with an emergency doctor or nurse from their own home.
The program was also expanded so people living in residential aged care facilities and everyone on the Covid Positive Pathways could access it.
Since the program began in October 2020, more than 28,000 patients have been seen, with an average ambulance and/or emergency department diversion rate of 71 per cent.
Mr Andrews said it made “common sense” to expand the virtual program, with emergency departments set to be busy over winter.
“No one wants to spend time in an emergency department if you can get the care, the referral, the pathway and the treatment in a more efficient way,” he said.
“It doesn‘t see you having to leave your home and sees all of our resources used as best we possibly can use them. That’s a great thing for the system.
“They’ve (virtual emergency department patients) got what they needed virtually without having to be transported either by an ambulance or under their own steam without having to be physically present and wait in an emergency department and potentially take up space and time.”
Capacity and the available beds have been a major issue at Victorian hospitals as a third wave fuelled by the contagious Omicron BA. 4 and BA. 5 subvariants takes hold.
The number of Victorians in hospital with Covid has increased by 99 per cent in less than a month and there has been a 60 per cent rise in Covid ICU admissions.
The state’s Covid hospitalisations surpassed 800 on Monday, while 10,251 new cases were recorded.
Ambulance Victoria improvement lead Amanda Thornton said beyond diverging patients to help free up precious hospital beds, the virtual emergency department was also quicker and more efficient.
“An average case that goes through virtual emergency department can take anywhere between say 40 to 60 minutes, that‘s our entire case time. When we transport people to hospital, we can see that extend up to eight or nine hours,” he said.
“The benefit is certainly that we can divert these patients to care in the community. We can get our ambulances back on the road.”
Other measures announced by the government included a new rostering pattern for advanced life support paramedic crews, which is being trialled at four ambulance service areas in metropolitan Melbourne.
Ambulance Victoria’s offload teams have also been expanded to 14 major public hospitals from the six existing sites.
It comes after multiple ambulance code reds have been declared in the state this year due to Covid and flu-related staff shortages.
More than 10,000 staff from across the healthcare system were furloughed in the first week of July alone, with workforce furlough up by 47 per cent since June 22.