And while the department’s target was for at least 90 per cent of ambulance patients to be transferred to hospital within 40 minutes, only 74 per cent of patients were moved within that time frame over the past year, leaving many Victorians languishing on stretchers waiting for a bed and ambulances ramped outside major hospitals.
The system is failing in other areas, too. The department planned to remove at least 203,020 people from elective surgery waiting lists last financial year, but managed only 163,000 – 20 per cent below expectations.
Dr McRae said every aspect of the healthcare system was deteriorating under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To say the statistics in these reports are unsurprising completely understates it, because the situation in Victorian hospitals is marginally worse than what it was going to be anyway without COVID-19,” Dr McRae said.
The department’s annual report was tabled in Parliament on a day the state reported 25 deaths from coronavirus – the most in a 24-hour period this year – and with more restrictions due to be removed on Friday, raising the risk of more infections.
With the state on track to reach its 80 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone, Melburnians will once again be able to travel to regional Victoria; restaurants, gyms and hairdressers will open with no caps for vaccinated patrons and staff; and by November 1 hotel quarantine will be scrapped for those who have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But while Victorians will get to enjoy long-awaited freedoms after months of lockdowns, fatigued hospital staff are bracing for more pressure.
Health Department secretary Euan Wallace acknowledged that “there is no doubt the pandemic created opportunities for significant improvements in our health system”.
But he added that “throughout this crisis we have worked together to continually innovate… and sharpen our focus on delivering a world-class healthcare system that keeps Victorians as healthy as possible”.
The opposition’s health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the government should have done more.
“The Andrews government continues to fail Victorians and as a result of the health crisis, more Victorian lives are being put at risk, more people are waiting in pain, and their health conditions are worsening,” she said.
The department’s report comes after demand for ambulances hit record levels in Victoria this month and the service reported four of its five busiest days in history, with similar demand to the deadly thunderstorm asthma event in 2016.
It now takes an average of about 50 minutes for people to be offloaded from an ambulance stretcher after arriving at hospital, a 20-minute increase from late 2019, before the pandemic began.
Emergency departments across the state are also experiencing extraordinary demand as record numbers of patients arrive at hospitals.
Western Health’s annual report, also tabled in Parliament on Thursday, showed that only 51 per cent of patients arriving were being seen within their clinically recommended time at Sunshine and Footscray hospital emergency departments.
The report stated that while all the most urgent emergency patients at Western Health were being seen immediately, in the last financial year 413 patients waited more than 24 hours in the health service’s emergency departments for care – the highest number in the state.
Austin Health’s annual report also found 48 per cent of patients who arrived by ambulance waited longer than 40 minutes to be transferred to the emergency department.
It was a similar scenario at Monash Medical Centre, where 53 per cent of patients waited in ambulances longer than the recommended 40 minutes, and 43 per cent of patients arriving in emergency were not being seen within the recommended time frame.
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