Ambulance ramping and response times under pressure due to years of neglect

Apr 1, 2022 | Libby Mettam MLA, State News

The latest ambulance ramping and response times lay bare the McGowan Government’s lack of action to prepare the health system for the COVID ‘storm’ that WA is experiencing, according to the Opposition.

Shadow Health Minister Libby Mettam said the figures were more evidence the health system was far from “battle ready” for COVID, despite two years to prepare and significantly lower than anticipated hospitalisations.

“With March’s Ambulance ramping figures, the second worst on record at 5,639 hours, this is a clear indication that things are continuing to worsen in a health system that is being stretched to its limits,” said Libby Mettam.

“With 80 operational metro ambulances at any given time, 5,639 hours of ramping means that 10% of the total fleet was unable to be used for the whole month. It is simply inexcusable that every one of these ambulances is not able to respond to priority calls for 68 hours of the month.

“While the Premier points to world leading vaccination rates and hospitalisations far lower than predicted, it’s shocking to see these ramping figures which are almost 5 times what the McGowan Government had described as a horror story when in Opposition.

Thursday’s figures of 219 cases in hospital and 7 in ICU represent just 3% of general ward beds and 5% of ICU beds occupied by COVID positive patients.

The Health Minister continues to tell the people of WA that ramping is trending downward, however yet again we have independent figures that highlight a 51% increase in ramping over the last two months alone.

This inability to transfer patient care to the hospital in a timely manner is also putting people’s lives at risk as response times continue to plummet to inexcusably low levels.

“It is bad enough that patients are forced to wait in the back of ambulances because our hospitals can’t admit them but it is entirely unacceptable when ambulances are not arriving in time to provide treatment in life and death situations.”

Ms Mettam said the government’s spin about this being because too many patients were calling 000 was yet another attempt to divert attention from the years of underfunding and underresourcing under this government.

“While St John’s WA has experienced absenteeism and extra time pressures due to PPE requirements, the McGowan Government can not gloss over the issues of bed block and capacity issues that have plagued the health system for a number of years,” Ms Mettam said.

“Ramping is a direct result of a system under pressure and an inability to cope with any surge. We know that going into the pandemic WA had the lowest number of beds per capita.

“WA also had the lowest number of ICU beds per capita in 2021 and inexplicably, had less ICU beds than the year before.

“They have now started re-opening closed beds but it will take more than an 11th hour injection of funds for beds and staff to turn the ship around after years of trying to run it aground.”

Ms Mettam said the figures follow the AMA’s damning 2022 Public Hospital Report Card release last week which highlighted how the underfunding of health over the past few years had created the vulnerabilities in the system at present.

“This was clear in areas such as elective surgery, where the median wait time in WA is 46 days, 18 days longer than the best performing state, Victoria, and an increase of 10 days on the 2019/20 figures,” said Ms Mettam.