‘Third World country’: Liberals attack government on ambulance wait times

The Victorian opposition has taken aim at the Andrews government over the death of a 32-year-old woman who waited more than six hours for an ambulance.

In the first parliamentary sitting day since the death of Caulfield North woman Christina Lackmann, Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien targeted Health Minister Martin Foley and demanded the government explain how many other patients are waiting lengthy periods for emergency assistance.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien.Credit:Eddie Jim

In response, the government urged the opposition to respect the grieving process of Ms Lackmann’s family and claimed that the Coalition would make cuts to ambulance services and paramedics if they were to win next year’s election.

“Grieving relatives are now comparing Victoria’s ambulance services to a Third World country,” Mr O’Brien said. “Will the minister now apologise for the failure of ambulance services under his watch that have now cost lives?

“A 32-year-old woman died waiting seven hours for an ambulance in Victoria in 2020 … Victorians are dying waiting for ambulances.

“How has the minister allowed such an appalling situation to occur on his watch?”

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley.Credit:Penny Stephens

The data, expected to be released imminently, will show that in the three months to March ambulances were reaching the most serious cases within the target time at a rate in the mid-70 per cent region, about 10 percentage points lower than in 2019.

The political contest over health services has echoes of the strong campaign run by then-opposition leader Daniel Andrews against the Coalition government before the 2014 election. Mr Andrews would consistently pin responsibility on the government for specific deaths and incidents that occurred when ambulance response times blew out.

Huge demand for ambulances – caused by poor post-lockdown health and rules preventing people from seeing a GP if they have COVID-19 symptoms – are causing emergency rooms to be clogged.

In turn, this is slowing the movement of patients through the hospital system and causing ambulances to queue for hours outside emergency departments waiting for a bed to become available.

Some ambulances are then arriving late to critically ill people because too many of them are stuck waiting in hospital driveways. Other states including NSW are experiencing similar problems.

Mr Foley said the government had spent a record amount on ambulance services and had also invested in additional hospital beds and triage services.

As he listed the government’s health spending, an opposition frontbencher interjected: “People are dying. It isn’t working.”

Mr Foley said the opposition wanted to make cuts to the public service and flagged reforms to ease the burden on the health system. “We won’t be cutting services … I will concede there’s always more a Labor government can do,” he said.

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