Victorian health services facing ‘perfect storm’ of increased pressure and demand

August 6, 2021

The latest health system performance report shows a system performing well under immense pressure and recovering from the impacts of strict, successive lockdowns.

Demand for services is returning to – and in some cases exceeding – pre-pandemic levels, while the system responds to COVID-19 outbreaks and the impacts of delayed care.

The Victorian Agency for Health Information (VAHI) has today published its quarterly update of the Victorian Health Services Performance data for the period April–June 2021.

Ambulance Victoria and emergency departments experienced their second and third busiest quarters on record, respectively. In line with this demand, there was also an increase in the number of patient transfers exceeding the recommended time and an increase in the number of people waiting longer than four hours in emergency departments.

Importantly, the highest priority patients were provided emergency treatment within the recommended time.

VHA’s Chief Executive Officer, Tom Symondson, said health services continue to deliver high-quality care to communities, while responding to the pandemic, increased reporting requirements and significant system reforms.

‘What we’re seeing is a system working hard to respond to increased pressure and demand, while operating in the context of a pandemic. But services and the workforce are stretched,’ Mr Symondson said.

‘The combination of record-level emergency department presentations and ambulance callouts creates a perfect storm for acute health services.’

‘Additionally, COVIDSafe processes, coupled with personal protective equipment requirements and delayed care during lockdowns, adds complexity and time to the caregiving process.’

‘The government and health services must work together to better understand this increased demand for emergency treatment and rollout initiatives to ensure the community can access appropriate pathways to care when they need it.’

Following a year of successive lockdowns and delayed care in 2020, health services treated elective surgery patients at a rate close to pre-pandemic levels in the April-June quarter. Elective surgeries performed increased by 1,644 patients (3.7 per cent) and the median wait time for elective surgery patients improved by 8 days compared to the previous quarter.

The VHA has been advocating for elective surgeries to continue in a COVIDSafe environment and welcomed policy changes to allow elective surgeries during the recent outbreaks.

‘Deferred care has an impact on patient acuity, which increases the resources required to deliver effective treatment, further increasing the pressure on a health system that is already dealing with unprecedented demand,’ Mr Symondson said.

‘Public health restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 must be balanced with the need for Victorians to continue to access allied health, primary care, and preventative care – including necessary elective surgeries – as the pandemic wears on.’

More information and interviews available

Mr Symondson is available for comment. Media can contact Hazel Penfold on 0451 655 443 or hazel.penfold@vha.org.au.