Referral help for south-west ambos

AN ambulance referral system that has been trialled in the south-west over the past 12 months will be rolled out statewide next month.

The RefComm system is “staffed by specially trained nurses and paramedics who work with callers to decide what treatment would be best”, Victorian health minister David Davis said.

South-west paramedic Jock O’Connor said the system was “not fool-proof”, but added it seemed to work reasonably well.

“It’s not a bad system,” Mr O’Connor said. “It does get rid of a bit of our work, although we’re still going to go to a lot of jobs we don’t need to.

“Still, we don’t know what jobs get shunted on — I’m not sure how much they filter out, but they must do a fair bit.”

He said RefComm was “not the full answer” but it appeared to be working.

Mr Davis said the system had been operating in Melbourne for more than a decade and aimed to “ensure that Victorians who called triple-0 for an ambulance would receive the right treatment in the right health setting”.

“Ambulances will be sent to patients with life-threatening conditions — that has not and will not change,” the health minister said.

“But many people request an ambulance for conditions that are not serious or life-threatening, from toothache to head colds and more.

“Suitable patients, whose condition indicate an emergency ambulance may not be necessary, will be referred to alternative options that better match their health needs, including transport by non-emergency ambulance or attendance by locum doctor or nursing service.”

Mr Davis said there were more than 900,000 triple-0 calls to Ambulance Victoria during 2012-13.

“Of those, about 50,000 calls were sent to RefComm, with all referrals following guidelines endorsed by Ambulance Victoria’s Medical Advisory Committee,” he said.

“Approximately 70 per cent of calls managed by RefComm in 2012-13 did not require an emergency ambulance to be dispatched, with patients instead referred to a more appropriate local health service. RefComm prevents unnecessary ambulance, meaning more ambulances and paramedics are available for emergencies.”

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