South Australian ambulances were ramped for a record number of hours in March, with the state government conceding it has resorted to “urgent” measures to reduce health system congestion.

Key points:

  • Ambulances spent 3,968 hours ramped outside hospital emergency departments in March
  • The opposition says the government has failed to fulfil commitments to reduce the prevalence of ramping
  • The government says it remains on track to reduce health system pressures next year

SA Health data shows ambulances spent 3,968 hours parked, or “ramped”, outside hospital emergency departments last month because of bed shortages — up from the previous record of 3,855 hours in June last year.

Ramping hours have fluctuated in recent months but last week the state’s doctors’ union reported that the situation had deteriorated to the extent that ambulances were being ramped on the fourth floor of a car park at Flinders Medical Centre.

The SA government said it was now implementing “rapid actions” in an urgent attempt to reduce health system congestion, including weekly audits of long-stay patients, and boosting reliance on private hospitals for private patients.

Fixing ramping was a major electoral commitment of the current government before it came to power just over 12 months ago — but opposition health spokesperson Ashton Hurn said the public was still waiting for signs of progress.

“The government has now eclipsed its own record of ramping here in South Australia, reaching a staggering 4,000 hours where patients and paramedics have spent the equivalent of half a year outside of our hospitals on the ramp,” she said.

“[Premier Peter Malinauskas] went to the election promising South Australians that not only would he fix ramping but that he had the plan to do it — and now we know they have reached a dangerous new height.

“Sick South Australians are paying the price.”

Ms Hurn said ramping had reached a “dangerous” new high.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

The government blamed the rise in ramping on a significant increase in demand — with emergency department presentations up by 14 per cent among the “most urgent” category 1 and 2 patients.

Health Minister Chris Picton said the government was on course to open hundreds of new beds across the system, on top of 26 that recently opened at Flinders Medical Centre.

“Towards the end of next year is when we expect to see significant numbers of those beds open — well over 150 beds in ED (emergency department) spaces,” he said.

Patients ‘stuck for hundreds of days’

The government also unveiled a series of “rapid actions” including boosting reliance on transit wards to allow patient discharges earlier in the day, reviewing triage staffing, boosting the number of ambulance staff at emergency departments and appointing “ramping clinical leads”.

“We need to be reviewing … how we can unblock the barriers [to] getting people — sometimes who are stuck for hundreds of days in our hospital system — to other appropriate care,” Mr Picton said.

Mr Picton said some patients were becoming stuck in the system for “hundreds” of days.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“There’s no spinning the fact that March was a record month of ramping across our system facing some significant demand in our system and that means we now need to take even more actions to make sure that patients can get the care they need.”

SA Health chief executive Robyn Lawrence said the state’s health department wanted to see “a significant decrease in ramping next year, and [an] improvement in ambulance response times”.

“All the programs we have are absolutely focused on achieving that outcome,” Dr Lawrence said.

She said the department had set a target of “achieving the 2018 levels by the end of 2025” but she would not be drawn on the number of ramping hours considered acceptable.

Dr Lawrence said SA Health was committed to reducing ramping at least to 2018 levels.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

Posted , updated