Victoria’s first ‘COVID normal’ winter extremely challenging for hospitals

October 28, 2022

Victoria’s health system experienced an extremely challenging winter – the first in a ‘COVID normal’ environment, with fewer restrictions to control the virus and reduce demand on health services.

The latest Victorian Health Services Performance Report shows some stabilisation in demand for emergency services after the extraordinary spike due to Omicron last summer, but demand remained very high from July to September.

Deputy CEO of the VHA Juan Paolo Legaspi said the number of code 1 ‘lights and sirens’ ambulance callouts was the second highest on record, putting both Ambulance Victoria and hospitals under enormous pressure. On top of that, the elective surgery waiting list was around double the level Victoria managed before the pandemic.

‘This was the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that our hospitals had to cope with high demand for emergency department care as well as a full load of elective surgery patients. Before this, the suspension of some elective surgery created more space for emergency patients needing a bed for further care,’ he said.

‘The data shows that Ambulance Victoria and our hospitals did a terrific job of managing this while hundreds of staff were furloughed with COVID-19 and other viruses such as the flu. But it was obviously hard on them and Victorian patients, some of whom waited longer than they should for care.’

Mr Legaspi said a lot of work was required to help Ambulance Victoria and hospitals now manage multiple peaks in demand due to COVID throughout the year – not just one big peak in winter like they did before the pandemic.

‘As much as we wish COVID-19 was behind us, it isn’t. Our health system is now preparing for a COVID-19 wave in December when they would usually experience lower demand for emergency care and have staff on leave to spend time with their families,’ he said.

‘It’s a really difficult time to be running public health services. CEOs are now having to try and predict when there is a slight lull in demand so they can try to look after their staff and ensure they take a break. All of this is being carefully balanced against how long patients are waiting for care.’

The VHA is calling for all political parties to commit to policies that will help Victoria’s health system retain and recruit more staff, and modernise services for the future. You can read more about them here.


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