Paramedics across Sydney are reporting record numbers of triple zero calls, with wait times of up to an hour for the highest level life-threatening emergencies.
Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said paramedics are expecting a “summer they have never seen before” as triple zero calls escalate with increasing COVID-19 cases and other traumas and injuries over the holiday period.
A senior operational manager at NSW Ambulance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there are significant “wait times in offloading ambulances” at public hospital emergency departments, causing up to four-hour response delays to triple zero calls.
“Paramedics are also catching COVID-19 and needing to take extended periods of time off work,” the manager said.
Screenshots of NSW Ambulance’s control centre status board, seen by the Herald, show that on Wednesday the average response time for P1, or potentially life-threatening cases, was 58 minutes across Sydney metropolitan area.
On Wednesday, only 20 ambulances were available across the network, which is about eleven per cent of total operational capacity.
P1 category cases include unconscious patients, people having an acute heart attack or choking.
Health Services Union NSW ambulance divisional secretary Stuart Hatter said the ambulance network had reached “status 2” mode at least twice this week, meaning there was likely more emergency triple zero responses than there were available crews.
Mr Hatter said that the network had also experienced record calls into the Sydney control centre over the weekend.
Acting Commissioner David Dutton said that paramedics reported on Wednesday that they were answering emergency triple zero calls every 24 seconds.
“We’re asking people to save calling triple zero for saving lives,” Mr Dutton said. “I want to be clear if someone is unconscious, if someone has chest pain, if someone has shortness of breath or if they are injuries as a result of an accident, please call triple zero.”
Mr Dutton asked people to avoid calling ambulances for minor illness.
“If you can’t sleep, you have a toothache or if you want to check the opening hours of a testing clinic, please do not call triple zero. Those calls ... potentially delay NSW Ambulance mounting an emergency response to a member of the community that needs it,” Mr Dutton said.
About 1500 health workers in NSW are currently furloughed due to COVID-19.