Ambulance ramping triggers unprecedented warning to Perth residents amid highest COVID numbers ever

St John has issued an unprecedented warning to Perth residents that they will likely be delayed in getting an ambulance due to “extremely high” demand for its services.

It comes amid an ongoing health crisis in the state, with ambulances outside hospitals hitting record highs and the day WA recorded the highest number of COVID cases on record.

It is the first time that St John has addressed the public directly about the dire state of its response times, as documented in its COVID escalation plan.

“Right now, about 25 percent of the St John fleet is ramped up in metropolitan Perth, and the State Operations Center continues to receive call volumes of more than 40 calls per hour,” a St John spokeswoman said in a statement.

She said those with non-emergency health needs should seek alternative support from Heatlhdirect on 1800 022 222, their local GP or urgent care clinic, or the COVID hotline on 13COVID.

“Our priority is to provide care to Western Australians in need of life-saving assistance,” she said.

High call volume

Ambulance ramping would occur when a hospital takes longer than 30 minutes to admit a patient to the emergency department.

WA recorded the worst ambulance ramp-up numbers in history last year, with paramedics spending more than 52,000 hours waiting to transfer patients outside hospitals, the equivalent of six years, according to figures published by St John WA.

It was more than double the 25,902 hours recorded in 2020 and five times more than when the McGowan government took charge of the state in 2017.

WA Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson urged people to only call triple-0 if they were experiencing a real emergency.ABC News: Jessica Warriner

Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson said hospitals had been asked to do all they could to help.

“I have been reported to have an unusually high number of calls to the St. John surgery center and the high number of hours off leave has increased the strain on the health system and St. John,” she said.

“Anyone in need of urgent care should call an ambulance as usual, but as always, keep triple-0 for real emergencies.”

Ambulance ramping escalates

The latest figures from St. John show that ambulance response times on Sunday were significantly behind target, with just under 70 percent of the most urgent calls being handled within 15 minutes.

The aim is to handle at least 90 percent of such cases during that time.

Of Sunday’s urgent cases, about two-thirds were treated within the target time of 25 minutes, again well behind the 90 percent target.

A long line of ambulances.
Ambulance ramping figures show signs of significant increase in metropolitan Perth.ABC News: Jessica Warriner

March was the second-worst month for ambulances to ramp up ever, with a state record 5,654 hours.

However, just a week into May, the ambulance ramp hours are already at 1,561 hours.

If that trend continues, the numbers could overshadow last September, WA’s worst month on record for disasters, when ambulances spent 6,526 hours outside hospitals.

Posted updated

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