Australian Defence Force personnel, graduate student paramedics and volunteers from services such as the State Emergency Service will step up to drive ambulances as part of a series of measures to be rolled out from next week in an effort to ease pressure on the state's health system.
The measures are part of long term planning from Ambulance Victoria in deploying a surge workforce amid a growing number of COVID-19 patients.
Executive Director of Clinical Operations, Associate Professor Mick Stephenson, has told reporters that Ambulance Victoria had already deployed some of its surge workforce - including volunteer Ambulance Community Officers and Community Emergency Response Team operators - to hospital queues so paramedics could hand over to them and get back on the road.
With the "extraordinary demand in the system at the moment" and expected escalation in cases in coming weeks, Associate Professor Stephensen said it was "absolutely fundamental only those who are seriously unwell go to hospital and all others receive care in the community."
"At the moment we are getting a lot of calls from patients with COVID-19 who are anxious or concerned about having COVID-19 and are calling for an ambulance for those reasons, not because they are sick.
"There are a lot of patients at the moment wanting transport to hospital purely so they can be assessed, not because they are in any great need of medical treatment."
With paramedics required to take further health and safety measures when responding to these cases to prevent the spread of the virus, the result is that it is "slowing the system down quite markedly".
To mitigate these issues, from next week, in cases where an ambulance is requested but not required, as many patients as possible will be referred to a secondary service where a trained nurse or paramedic will take the call.
Associate Professor Stephensen said that in referring people away from an emergency response, they would be told to either drive themselves to hospital, take a non-emergency ambulance or seek the help of a GP or other trusted medical professional.
This system is already in place, with about 30 per cent of Triple Zero calls currently heard by secondary referrals each day, but the intention is for a higher percentage of callers to be referred to this service in coming weeks.
He conceded there was a risk that very sick patients might slip through the cracks, but said the skilled nurses and paramedics working in the referral service would be able to pick up on the signs and had the capacity to send out an emergency ambulance if required.
We can't afford people who are not really sick calling us because it just clogs the system up. We only want people in hospital who really need to be there
"We can't afford people who are not really sick calling us because it just clogs the system up.
"We only want people in hospital who really need to be there," he said.
After 1838 new locally acquired COVID cases were recorded on Friday, along with five deaths, it is anticipated about 20 per cent of these cases will call an ambulance within the next week.
"It will increase our demand next week quite dramatically and put more pressure on the system," he said, adding the state was not expected to reach its peak for several weeks.
"Our need to upscale with a surge workforce is growing by the day."
With the median wait time to get off a stretcher of an ambulance currently about 50 minutes, it is the longest ever seen in the state. There are also hundreds of cases a week waiting more than two hours. It is a jump from about 29 minutes before COVID.
"Covid really slows the system down. It is the worst we've ever seen, [there's] no doubt about it."
To further address the strain on the system, the emergency ambulance response will be boosted from next week with about 400 extra staff.
While ordinarily paramedics travel two-up in an ambulance, some partners will be split up into two separate ambulances.
It is planned that 30 crews will be split next week, meaning about 60 ambulances will be staffed with a paramedic and driver from a service organisation such as St John's Ambulance, the State Emergency Service or the Australian Defence Force.
Basic medical training for a selection of people from these services, including in Ballarat, has already been undertaken.
They will not provide care themselves but are trained to assist the paramedic in scenarios such as cardiac arrest.
Ambulance Victoria's community first responders and student paramedics will also be employed to drive ambulances, along with being deployed to treat patients as they wait in ambulance queues outside hospitals.
He said the peak in cases was expected in mid to late October but there could be another in December so Ambulance Victoria was preparing to have the surge workforce in place for at least three months.
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