SOUTH-WEST Victoria will see a new ambulance referral system rolled out from next month designed to ensure service for emergency cases.
The RefCom referral service will be expanded to five Victorian regions by the end of 2013, after operating in metropolitan Melbourne since 2003.
It diverts triple-zero callers with non-life threatening medical problems to locum doctors or other health services.
This leaves more ambulances free to attend life-threatening cases.
Barwon South West will be the first region to get the new service in November, covering the area from Geelong, Apollo Bay, Lorne and Camperdown all the way to the South Australian border.
Ambulance Victoria manager of communications and referral services Danny McGennisken said he expected the system would handle more than 10,000 calls in regional areas.
It dealt with 40,000 calls in Melbourne in 2010/11.
“What it means is that we can match the clinical needs of a patient with a clinical service other than using an emergency ambulance,” he said.
He refused to indicate how much the rollout would cost.
The state opposition said it had earmarked and funded RefCom in 2010 before it lost government but the Baillieu government had not expanded it into rural and regional Victoria until now.
Opposition spokesman for health Wade Noonan said for many people RefCom could be the difference between life and death.
He said that in 2011 only 42 of 149 rural ambulance branches met the government’s statewide target of responding to life-threatening emergencies within 15 minutes. “There’s no doubt that the introduction of a referral service for low medical priority cases across regional and rural Victoria would help ensure that more ambulances were available for life-threatening call-outs,” Mr Noonan said.
He said paramedics had told him of cases where patients had toothaches, earaches or sore throats.
“Too many of them have been locked down with low priority cases and they want to be freed up to attend life threatening situations,” he said.
“It seems like the Baillieu government has been quite content to allow people living in rural Victoria to wait longer for ambulances.”