RECURRING ISSUE: Ambulances ramping at Ipswich Hospital back in 2011.
RECURRING ISSUE: Ambulances ramping at Ipswich Hospital back in 2011. Claudia Baxter

Ipswich ambo speaks out on ramping, risks his job

LIVES are being put at risk as paramedics stand waiting in hospital hallways instead of responding to the public's calls for help.  

Ambulance ramping at Ipswich Hospital has become noticeably worse in the past year.  

Now paramedics are breaking their silence to warn the community - there could be dire consequences.  

Ipswich Hospital hasn't denied ramping is a major problem, but pointed out the issue is affecting most major Queensland hospitals, most recently highlighted by unions in Cairns and Logan.   

The State Government says an increased demand in ambulance services and emergency departments across the state is putting pressure on services.   

But fear and frustration is mounting among local ambulance officers who are calling on the government to take action.  

In the past week, on any given day, there have been about five ambulances parked in the Ipswich Hospital Emergency Department parking bay.  

The hospital says that could be related to flu season, which has been particularly severe this season.

According to ambulance officers, spending up to five hours waiting for a patient to be admitted to the hospital isn't unusual.

Ipswich Hospital emergency department drop-off and ambulance bay, September 2016.
Ipswich Hospital emergency department drop-off and ambulance bay, September 2016. David Nielsen

They say the ramping issue is a combination of the lack of hospital staff, not enough beds and the public's abuse of both the ambulance service and the public emergency department.

When ambulances are ramped they can't respond to new calls and regional stations, such as in Springfield and Redbank, are being forced to pick up the slack leaving those communities without nearby services.

An Ipswich ambulance officer with more than 20 years' experience has risked his job to explain why ambulance ramping could cost someone their life.

He says if his name was to be printed, he would surely be fired.

"It's almost a daily issue," the paramedic said.

"Being ramped for two or three hours is not uncommon and I have personally been ramped for five hours before.

"You often hear the radio calling for anyone that can respond to a Code One and they repeat the call in desperation because they've got no units available.

"It's frustrating. I think every paramedic goes through the same thing; if that was our family member that had a car accident, or a heart attack, and they die because an ambulance can't get there....

"These are people we should be looking after and we can't get there to do that job."

Between January and June last year ambulance officers across Queensland spent 751 days 'ramped' at hospital emergency departments for longer than 30 minutes.

That's an improvement on the same figures from 2010-2011 when paramedics spent 1315 days standing around waiting.

But in 2013, under the LNP government, that figure dropped down to 318 days.

Shadow Health Minister John-Paul Langbroek puts that down to the introduction of the Metropolitan Emergency Department Access Initiative.

The initiative followed an expert report on ambulance ramping, pointing it out as a major problem, and stopped ambulances 'bypassing' busy hospitals.

Shadow Health Minister, the LNP's John-Paul Langbroek
Shadow Health Minister, the LNP's John-Paul Langbroek Allan Reinikka

The reform focused on improving communication and co-ordination between Queensland Health and Queensland Ambulance Service within emergency departments, a process deemed inconsistent across hospitals at the time.

In August last year the State Government re-instated a directive ordering hospitals to follow that initiative, which was revoked by the LNP once the figures showed ramping was resolving and hospitals were working more efficiently.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Cameron Dick said the biggest contributor to ramping was a 5 per cent increase in calls to Queensland Ambulance.

In Ipswich, presentations to the Emergency Department this year have jumped 5.6% from last year.

The LNP is blaming the State Government for a resurgence in ramping, while the State Government is pointing the finger at the LNP for removing the requirements set out in the Metropolitan Emergency Department Access Initiative in the first place.

But paramedics say the easiest solution would be to assign an emergency triage nurse to exclusively assess patients arriving by ambulance, a system already in place at some hospitals in south-east Queensland.

That option is being explored for Ipswich Hospital, however, funding is an issue.

When asked if staffing issues in the Ipswich Hospital Emergency Department were causing ambulance ramping, West Moreton Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive Sue McKee skirted around the question.

Ms McKee said staffing levels were regularly reviewed, but wouldn't say how many staff work in the department in total.

"It's not uncommon for some people in the community to misuse the QAS and tie up valuable resources in emergency departments when they could have seen a GP or called the 13HEALTH for medical advice," Ms McKee said.


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