Emergency service response times in rural Victoria

Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) — My question is to the Minister for Families and Children, representing the Minister for Emergency Services. Lynette Collie from Mumbannar, a hamlet near the South Australian border, contacted me and related that last week a 75-year-old gentleman collapsed and required an ambulance at the Dartmoor Golf Club. The ambulance was called at 3.00 p.m., and the staff were told not to move the man, who lay on the concrete verandah to wait for the service. At 3.40 p.m., after the man felt worse, staff contacted the ambulance service again and were told that the ambulance had been dispatched with lights flashing and sirens blazing but could not be given details of where it was coming from, when it may arrive or where it was. At 3.50 p.m. the ambulance arrived from Heywood, which is some 25 minutes away, but it took 50 minutes. I ask the minister: what is being done to improve response times for emergency services in rural Victoria?


Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) — I thank the member for his question regarding ambulance response times, and I share the member's concerns about this matter. Under the coalition government ambulance response times deteriorated significantly. In 2013–14 ambulance response times were the worst on the Australian mainland.

I am disappointed to hear about the experience that this particular gentleman had in not receiving a timely ambulance response as he would have expected, and I would be grateful if the member were able to provide further details about this particular instance so that the Minister for Ambulance Services can follow up the details of this case and investigate the particular matter and provide further contact with the gentleman involved.

We know that ambulance response times are not good enough. They are not meeting the community's expectations, and this is why the government is doing a significant amount of work to improve response times right across Victoria, including in regional Victoria. One of the first actions of the Andrews Labor government was to establish the Ambulance Performance and Policy Consultative Committee. That committee released an interim report in March, and it found that dispatch now takes 1 minute longer compared to six years ago and that almost 60 per cent of emergency incidents were classified as code 1 but that on arrival paramedics found that a code 1 response was not required.

Our government has taken a range of actions already. We have invested $99 million to improve our ambulance services and improve response times. That includes $20 million to upgrade ambulance stations and $20 million to upgrade vehicles and equipment. We have removed the bypass to improve ambulance distribution right across the system and ensure that patients are transported to their local hospital.

These and other reforms are already yielding positive results. We have arrested the decline in response times that occurred under the coalition government, and we are beginning to see improvement. The first quarter of this financial year showed a 3 per cent improvement in response times when compared to the same quarter last year under the previous government. This is an improvement of 30 seconds, and we know that every second makes a difference in relation to these matters.

There is more work to be done to improve our response times and rebuild the community's confidence in our ambulance services, and this government is absolutely committed to doing just that. The Ambulance Performance and Policy Consultative Committee will deliver its final report by the end of the year, and that report will detail further reform that needs to be undertaken to improve response times right across Victoria, including in rural and regional Victoria.


Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) — I thank the minister for her response. The gentleman is okay, by the way. Considering the Dartmoor Golf Club could not get details of where the ambulance left from, where it was or how long it was going to take, why is it that if I order a pizza from Domino's, I can track on my phone its progress from when my order arrived in the store to when the pizza went into the oven and then track on GPS the delivery driver's progress all the way to my front door? Even Uber uses GPS tracking so you can watch your illegal ride approach through a mobile phone app. I ask the minister: why is it that a pizza delivery service and an illegal taxi service are able to provide more information on their progress to their customers than our emergency services?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) — I thank Mr Purcell for his supplementary question. The dispatch of ambulances is a significantly more complex issue than pizza delivery or even a taxi service. The call-and-dispatch system administered by ESTA, the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, manages constant and competing demands on ambulance resources, so when a code 1 case call is received there is a reprioritisation that takes place to ensure that life-threatening cases receive the most urgent response.

It is often the case that an ambulance en route responding to a low-acuity case will be diverted to respond to a code 1 case; it is not therefore possible to always be able to track the progress of an ambulance that has been dispatched. However, it is also true that for our most urgent cases there are sometimes multiple ambulances dispatched, so additionally this government has expanded the emergency response program to the Country Fire Authority (CFA), ensuring that in addition to dispatching an ambulance, other emergency responses might also be dispatched in response.