Consideration & Noting - Public Accounts Committee review - Ambublance Services
Motion, Tuesday 3 May 2022
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Murchison for bringing this forward. The Auditor-General's report rightly points out that the timeliness and quality of clinical care administered by paramedics and ambulance officers and the speed with which a patient reaches hospital can affect a patient's chance of recovery. Among some of the conclusions reached by the TAO, it was indicated that response times were slower than other jurisdictions, but this could be attributed to Tasmania's greater number of emergency responses per person, and lower level of urbanisation.
While this may be the case, timely and practical solutions need to be implemented to address any lags in response times. It does not matter what the cause of a slower response time is to a person who needs an ambulance straight away. Urgent is urgent. If there are more people who need ambulances in Tasmania and the population distribution is such that it takes longer to reach emergency calls, then the solution seems reasonably obvious to me - more ambulances need to be available, and more paramedics and ambulance officers need to be stationed in outer urban areas.
I note the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee include measures to investigate whether high proportions of volunteers in rural and regional areas of the state impact mobilisation times, and that Ambulance Tasmania conducts a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of measures like double branch stations, secondary triage services, and the recruitment of additional staff.
I concur with the Public Account Committee's recommendation that Ambulance Tasmania considers the public release of regional performance data. I am unsure why this would not already be occurring. I would be curious to know why it remains an internal performance measure. If we are to develop policies which can help ameliorate the issues which Ambulance Tasmania faces, and thus help to development better patient outcomes, then having access to this data is essential.
I note that Ambulance Tasmania measures standard clinical outcomes used by the Report on Government Services, including cardiac survival rates, pain reduction and patient satisfaction. This reporting does comply with Report on Government Services reporting requirements. However, in order to deliver better health outcomes for Tasmanians we need access to the bigger picture.
Mobilisation times in the north of the state was an issue that was raised in the Tasmanian Audit Office report and that Ambulance Tasmania could investigate whether higher proportions of volunteers were impacting on these times. The department's response to this recommendation was that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on the availability of volunteers in many remote and regional areas, many of them being in the vulnerable population category owing to their age and health status.
The committee found that Ambulance Tasmania did not provide evidence of any investigation into whether higher proportions of volunteers were impacting mobilisation times in the north of the state, that an external company from the UK, called Operational Research in Health, would conduct five-yearly retrospective reviews of Ambulance Tasmania.
The committee recommended that once the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on volunteer numbers had stabilised, Ambulance Tasmania should investigate the original recommendation, namely whether higher proportions of volunteers in rural and regional areas of the state impacted on mobilisation times.
We do not know how long the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are going to last and we are all aware that the toll it took on the volunteering sector was significant. I question whether there could be any way that a review could take place sooner so that we are prepared with adequate policy measures to address any identified issues as soon as possible. I note that during hearings the minister, now Premier, Mr Rockliff, indicated that the Government would provide $50 000 in funding to the Volunteer Ambulance Officers Association of Tasmania which works with Ambulance Tasmania under a memorandum of understanding focusing on attraction, retention, training, and support.
This is an important and necessary review into Ambulance Tasmania. What resources are placed into the operation of our ambulance services has a direct impact on the health and survival outcomes for people who need emergency services. I would note that it is important not to view the performance of Ambulance Tasmania in a vacuum. The direct interaction that Ambulance Tasmania has with our health services, especially our public hospitals, is critical. While it is important to review the work that Ambulance Tasmania does on its own, it is ultimately the treatment that patients get from the time of making a 000 call to their discharge from the hospital that affects their ultimate wellbeing.
Ambulance Tasmania, their staff, volunteers and personnel do an incredible job under very difficult circumstances and they should certainly be commended for that. It is up to us as lawmakers to ensure that they are being listened to, that they have everything they need to do their job well, and that paramedics and ambulance officers have access to proper support for their welfare as well. I note the report.