‘Worst results on record’: Ramping still rampant

Ambulance ramping has increased by 64 per cent over the past year, with the Opposition accusing the nine-month-old Malinauskas Government of overpromising on its main election pledge to “fix the ramping crisis”.

Dec 22, 2022, updated Dec 22, 2022
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Government figures released earlier this month show statewide ramping hours increased from 2138 in November 2021 to 3516 in November 2022.

That’s an increase of 64.45 per cent, or 1378 hours – the equivalent of 57 days.

Noarlunga Hospital recorded the biggest increase in ambulance ramping – up 153 per cent – followed by the Lyell McEwin Hospital (up 144 per cent), the Royal Adelaide Hospital (up 73 per cent) and Modbury Hospital (up 48 per cent).

Ramping occurs when ambulances are unable to offload patients due to emergency departments having reached patient capacity, forcing them to wait outside. 

The SA Ambulance Employees Association on Monday evening reported that metropolitan Adelaide had been declared “code white’ with uncovered emergencies due to “significant ramping”.

Code white means the SA Ambulance Service’s operational capacity and resources are “insufficient to maintain effective service delivery for high acuity cases” and “patient safety is directly affected”.

?Mon 7pm: SAAS OPSTAT White across Adelaide with uncovered emergencies due to significant ramping (TOC).

‘Operational capacity, capability and/or resources are insufficient to maintain effective service delivery for high acuity cases’ … ‘Patient safety is directly affected.

— Ambulance Employees Association (SA) (@aeasa1981) December 19, 2022

At 10:56 this morning, Flinders Medical Centre and Noarlunga Hospital were both declared code white on the SA Ambulance Service dashboard.

Prior to the March state election, Labor promised to “fix the ramping crisis” and has since committed an extra $2.4 billion into the health budget over the next five years.

But the Opposition claims the ramping data shows Labor is struggling to achieve its promise.

It claims ramping figures over the past seven months were the “worst ramping results on record”, with a 131 per cent increase in ramping between February and November.

“South Australians are frightened to dial triple zero, they are frightened to call an ambulance because they fear that it just won’t turn up for them,” Opposition leader David Speirs told reporters this morning.

“We’re seeing examples of people getting in their cars with ill relatives and driving them down to our emergency departments because they’re worried that an ambulance won’t come to pick them up in their time of personal health crisis.

“(Premier) Peter Malinauskas went to the election promising that he would solve ramping and he didn’t provide caveats around the fact that that would take many years to achieve.

“He created a sense across South Australia that ramping would be solved if he were elected the premier. Now we are seeing 3500 hours wasted on the ramp in November 2022.”

Ramping data across South Australian local health networks. Table: SA Government

Speirs conceded that renovations were occurring across several hospitals, including the Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department upgrade, but he said the ramping levels remained “unacceptable”.

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“I don’t think we can point to that (infrastructure works) as being a significant contributor at all to the current ramping figures,” he said.

“We’ve got very poor figures around all the metropolitan hospitals, in particular, on the list… Noarlunga Hospital in the southern suburbs is among the worst and they can’t fall back on infrastructure works as a reason for that one.”

Asked what his party would do differently, Speirs said: “This is not about what a Liberal government would do at this point in time”.

“I have always said when it comes to ramping that this was Labor’s silver bullet to unveil,” he said.

“We had a range of infrastructure projects underway and many of those are still unfolding, but at the end of the day, Labor created a significant impression in the minds of South Australians that they would solve this one.

“They haven’t and they’ve got to answer for that.”

Health Minister Chris Picton said it was “absolutely hypocritical for the Liberals to be crowing about ramping” and accused the party of “four years of neglect and cuts” during their time in government.

He said the Malinauskas Government had “always said it would take time” to address ramping.

“We are investing record amounts into the health system, building and investing in 550 more beds, recruiting 300 more nurses, 100 more doctors and 350 more ambos,” he said.

“The Liberals should explain why they delayed the Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department for 18 months which has contributed to the delays in that emergency department.

“The Liberals also didn’t add one extra bed to the Lyell McEwin Hospital. Labor is now addressing that by building 48 extra beds at the hospital.

“David Speirs also fails to mention in November 2021 there were just 17 cases of COVID in South Australia whereas in November 2022 there were tens of thousands.”

Last month, the SA Ambulance Employees Association – which ran a sustained media campaign in favour of Labor in the weeks leading up to the March state election – told a parliamentary committee hearing that the government’s response to address ambulance ramping was positive.

The association’s secretary Leah Watkins said the state was still at “crisis point”, but the Malinauskas Government had made a “significant investment” to address the issue.

“They are talking with us directly, they have acknowledged the issue and are making… what I would I would call incredible steps to address the issue in terms of significant amount of investment,” she said.

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