The unsustainable stress on our health system caused by escalating demand and a shortfall in supply has become tragically apparent in recent months and highlights the need for consumers to be part of the process of identifying solutions.

According to HIC CEO, Danny Vadasz “We are witnessing multiple failure points including those services we rely on to deliver the most urgent care – our ambulance system and our Emergency Departments.”

Devastating impacts

Anecdotal consumer stories and the media have highlighted these breakdowns in harrowing detail.

Waiting times have blown out in hospital ED’s with one report suggesting a man from regional Victoria died after having a cardiac arrest in a hospital bathroom after waiting 3.5 hours to be admitted into the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service’s emergency department.

Ambulance delays have meant citizens and police have had to step in to take patients to hospital.

Multiple deaths have been linked to triple zero delays, with the Victorian Government appointing former police chief Graham Ashton to investigate. This report, which called for the governing board of the service to be disbanded, has been delivered to Victorian Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes.

Staff shortages and burnout

Staffing shortages are also beginning to bite. Following January’s ‘code brown,’ some regional hospitals, including Ballarat, Albury Wodonga, Shepperton and Wangaratta, have had to declare ‘code yellow‘ – an internal emergency declaration signifying service delivery in the hospital is being affected.

Staff burn-out is being compounded by rising COVID-19 and influenza cases and staff absenteeism due to high workforce infection rates exacerbating preexisting shortages.

A system in crisis

President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Professor John Wilson, who resigned from the Alfred Hospital after 30 years, told The Age that it was “because I cannot keep working in a system where we are not able to deliver top-quality care with limited resources when staff are being burnt out to the point of beyond exhaustion”

Victoria’s State Budget (delivered May 2022) includes $333 million for the triple zero emergency call service and a $124 million commitment to Ambulance Victoria for recruiting more paramedics.

Victoria’s Health Minister, the Hon. Martin Foley MP, has also pointed to the need for more Federal support, declaring “What we need is hard commitments to deal with the mounting funding challenges.”

But even if the funds are immediately available, the remedies will take much longer. No one is expecting the crisis in our health care system to resolve overnight.

Consumers are needed at the table

According to Vadasz, ”We are facing a perfect storm of escalating demand just as we are experiencing a destabilization of the workforce. Both of these can be attributed to long term systemic causes that are beyond the scope of any quick fix solutions. We call for government to bring consumers to the table to address the underlying problems afflicting the health system and to help identify opportunities to move beyond crisis management.”

“As the end-users of the system, consumers are uniquely placed to recognize gaps and inefficiencies that could realise productivity gains as well as helping change the way consumers make health care choices that could alleviate bottlenecks in the system. Consumers waiting for admission to hospital or unable to receive care due to compounding elective surgery delays have valuable insights as to how to make the current system more viable.

“Instead of seeing consumer demand as the problem we need to recognize the consumer voice as part of the solution to alleviating the dire stress being felt right across the healthcare system.”

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