MELBOURNE, AAP – A former Victorian police commissioner has been tasked with reviewing the state’s emergency call-taking system following several deaths.
Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes on Friday announced former Victoria Police Chief Graham Ashton has been appointed to lead the independent review of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority.
Mr Ashton will review ESTA’s current functions and will make recommendations to the government on how to improve its capabilities by early next year.
ESTA provides Victoria’s 24-hour emergency call-taking and dispatch services for ambulance, fire, police and the Victoria State Emergency Service.
In 2020/21, the authority answered more than 2.8 million calls, or one call every 11 seconds. More than 1.9 million calls came via triple zero.
Last week, ESTA chief executive Marty Smyth said demand for triple zero ambulance calls had increased by about a third during the pandemic.
“We are regularly seeing unprecedented numbers of calls now. Levels, which before COVID-19 were seen only on busy weekends, are now almost a daily occurrence,” he said at the time.
Mr Smyth said the average wait time is currently is one to two minutes, well above the authority’s target of five seconds for ambulance calls.
About a third of calls do not require emergency assistance but this is not known until after they receive triage over the phone.
There have been several deaths in recent weeks, including a toddler who died after suffering a cardiac arrest after her family waited on hold to triple zero for one minute and 41 seconds. It is not yet known whether the delay contributed to her death.
The Herald Sun on Friday reported two other Victorians suffering cardiac arrest died after triple zero calls went unanswered for five minutes in each case.
“Our hardworking emergency call takers have done their absolute best throughout unprecedented demand from the pandemic – but we want to see where things can be improved,” Ms Symes said in a statement.
“Mr Ashton has expert knowledge of how our emergency services should operate, and I look forward to seeing his recommendations on how we can continue to support our emergency services agencies to keep Victorians safe.”
Ambulance Victoria has also confirmed it will be introducing new measures from next week as it braces for a growing wave of COVID-19 patients.
To improve response times, two paramedics will no longer be deployed in each ambulance – a first for Ambulance Victoria.
A single paramedic may instead be joined by a driver from the Australian Defence Force, St John Ambulance Australia, State Emergency Service or student paramedics.
An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman said the service had four of its five busiest days in history in the last two weeks.