Rising COVID cases stretch Illawarra paramedics thin | Illawarra Mercury


The rapid growth of COVID-19 cases in the Illawarra and NSW more broadly is putting the ambulance system under critical pressure, paramedics say. Tess Oxley, the Illawarra delegate for the Health Services Union’s ambulance division, said the region’s paramedics were responding to an increasing number of COVID jobs. On Friday NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said there was a 50 per cent increase in triple-0 calls to the service in the past four weeks, and one in three patients did not need to go to hospital. Read more: Pregnant Balgownie mum queued for hours for PCR test to see midwife While patients were not as sick as they were six to eight months ago, Miss Oxley said a lack of health resources meant paramedics were getting called out simply to assess people, which took up valuable time. She said this was on top of the other emergency jobs they would respond to at any other time, and the advent of summer meant an increase in seasonal and water-related call-outs. The closure of other healthcare options over the holiday period only added to the pressure on paramedics, she said. “It’s just really draining,” Miss Oxley said. Chris Kastelan, president of the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), said the rise in cases was causing response times to rise too. He said it was not uncommon for cases needing a lights-and-sirens response to wait 80 minutes for an ambulance. “Cases are commonly increasing times that paramedics are with patients, due to escalating ‘red alert’ requirements with PPE and after job personal and vehicular cleaning,” Mr Kastelan said. He said it also meant more paramedics were coming into contact with potential and confirmed COVID cases, which led to more NSW Ambulance employees having to isolate, thereby adding to the pressure on the paramedics who were still able to work. ‘Bed block’ was another issue, Mr Kastelan, said, with paramedics having to wait with patients at emergency departments for hours at times, leaving them unable to go out and attend to other emergencies. “Normal medical and trauma cases still come in so this has put such a strain on the system that it is at breaking point,” he said. He said this had left paramedics fatigued and demoralised. Read more: New Shellharbour skydive operations spark airport safety fears Mr Kastelan called on NSW Ambulance to commit to recruiting 1500 more paramedics by 2025 to work across the state. But Miss Oxley said she believed “we’ve reached a point now where there’s not going to be a quick fix to support staff”. She said there now had to be a focus on educating the community about what to expect if they contracted COVID, the symptoms that were safe to manage at home, and when they actually needed to call an ambulance. Dr Morgan said people with COVID were the largest cohort of patients paramedics were now attending, but there were often more appropriate services to access. People with COVID can call NSW Health’s support line on 1800 960 933. Call triple-0 if someone with COVID experiences trouble breathing, chest pain or feels faint. The Illawarra Mercury newsroom is funded by our readers. You can subscribe to support our journalism here. Sign up for breaking news emails below…


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