Seriously ill south-west Victorians are having to wait significantly longer for an ambulance, new government data shows.
Ambulance services statistics from the Victorian Agency for Health Information showed Warrnambool response times spiked across the board during the final three months of 2022.
The median response time for life-threatening, or "priority code 0", incidents jumped by 23 per cent to 8.68 minutes, while one in 10 people were having to wait 15 minutes in life-threatening circumstances. Code 0 events are called in where there is an immediate threat to life, such as when a person's heart has stopped.
Ambulance Victoria Barwon South West regional director Terry Marshall said response times across the region had been hit by "soaring" demand, sicker patients and staff absences due to COVID-19.
"Across the state, October to December was the busiest quarter in Ambulance Victoria's history with paramedics called to a record 100,234 Code 1 cases," Mr Marshall said. "In the face of this record demand and the impacts of COVID-19 on our lives, our dedicated paramedics in the Barwon South West continue to do an amazing job delivering world-class care to our patients."
The number of code 0 "arrivals" was up 33 per cent to 24 for the quarter, but well below the peak of 30 recorded at the start of 2022. Response times in early 2022 were substantially better than the most recent figures despite the higher number of call-outs, potentially showing the impact of staff furloughs, with an average of 112 staff across the state forced home every day between October and December.
The median response time for code 1, or "time critical", incidents was up marginally in Warrnambool to 9.62 minutes, but paramedics were able to reach 80 per cent of patients within the recommended time-frame of 15 minutes, which Mr Marshall said was the highest in the state.
The longest-waiting patients were having to wait much longer than before, however, with one in 10 time-critical patients waiting more than 26 minutes for an ambulance.
Mr Marshall said the furlough issue had been compounded by a jump in the number of seriously-ill patients requiring assistance.
"A year ago, life-threatening code 1 cases made up 42 per cent of the total triple-0 demand - which has now risen to 46 per cent in this quarter," he said.
"And on December 27, 2022, paramedics responded to 1304 Code 1 cases (across Victoria) - the first time we have broken 1300 code 1 cases in one day."
In Moyne Shire there weren't enough code 0 call-outs for the data to be published, but the median response time for code 1 incidents was down slightly to just over 19 minutes. One in 10 time-critical patients were still having to wait more than 40 minutes for an ambulance.
Glenelg Shire bucked the upward wait time trend despite a jump in incidents, bringing its median response time for code 0 incidents down 36 per cent for the quarter to 8.25 minutes. Response times for code 1 incidents were up marginally in the shire to an average of just under 10 minutes.
With the enormous pressure on ambulance services, the state director of clinical operations Anthony Carlyon asked people to only call triple-0 in an emergency.
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