Extreme demand the new norm for our public health system

August 6, 2022

Victoria’s ambulance service and public hospitals experienced record high demand from April to June this year, the latest Victorian Health Services Performance report shows. The number of emergency department presentations and ambulance code 1 callouts are the highest on record.

VHA’s Head of Policy and Advocacy, Juan Paolo Legaspi, said extreme demand for paramedics and emergency department care, driven by COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, caused longer waits for all types of health care including planned surgery.

‘Our public health services are doing everything they can to keep up, but extreme demand appears to be the new norm in Victoria,’ he said.

With COVID-19 now predicted to affect large numbers of Victorians in multiple waves throughout the year, not just once a year like the flu typically does, Mr Legaspi said it was time for governments to do more to address the workforce shortage in our public health system. This shortage, which existed before the pandemic, has worsened with furloughing due to COVID-19, and increasing rates of burnout.

‘We can’t just keep asking healthcare workers to “keep on going” when we know this won’t be the last wave of COVID.’

‘There used to be seasonal peaks and troughs in the intensity of work for our healthcare workers. This data shows we are in an unprecedented era of intense demand. Our health workforce is under high pressure all the time. It’s unsustainable. Unless we bring in a lot more workers to reduce this burden quickly, we’re at risk of losing staff faster than we can recruit or train them,’ Mr Legaspi said.

Ahead of the November Victorian election, the VHA is calling for the state government to create a workforce strategy and recruitment campaign to urgently attract more health workers locally and from overseas.

As well as bolstering the domestic workforce, the VHA has been calling for the Commonwealth to cut red tape for international recruits. According to Australian Home Affairs data, it can take many months and sometimes years for an application to be processed to work in Australia and when workers do arrive, it can be hard to find housing, particularly in rural areas.

Mr Legaspi said: ‘COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. If we value timely access to care in our public health system, we need more flexibility and more workers to meet new levels of demand from our community.’

Media contact: Julia Medew is on 0402 011 438 or Julia.medew@vha.org.au