Welcome to another edition of Fast Five - our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exceptional business leaders five questions to get a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Australia’s most vital and challenging operations.
This week, we spoke to Professor Tony Walker ASM, the Chief Executive Officer of Ambulance Victoria. After spending 18 months at the helm during a global pandemic, it is fair to say that Tony and Ambulance Victoria have faced some massive challenges.
While Ambulance Victoria is managing to keep agile and adjust to the daily changes and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Walker is keeping an eye on the future and preparing Ambulance Victoria for a migrating population and new wave of technology.
#1: What has been Ambulance Victoria's greatest challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our biggest challenge at Ambulance Victoria during the pandemic has been the impact of COVID-19 on our people. They have been personally dealing with similar challenges to the broader community during the pandemic including the effects of restrictions on them and their families and balancing the challenges of work with home schooling.
On top of this, our people have had to adapt to working in a pandemic environment, including wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to every case, changes to clinical practice to keep them and their patients safe, and being vigilant to the risk of contracting COVID-19, particularly prior to vaccination being available.
This has impacted heavily on their mental health and wellbeing and resulted in a marked increase in our staff accessing our mental health support services.
This has been a tough time for everyone, and I’m incredibly proud of our people for rising to meet these challenges with great professionalism and compassion.
#2: What unexpected anomaly or trend has Ambulance Victoria witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The marked increase in demand for our services after last year’s lockdown was unexpected and has continued throughout 2021.
This has in part been driven by people who deferred their normal check-ups and are now experiencing more complex or critical conditions. Ambulance Victoria is not alone with hospital emergency departments also experiencing a similar increase in demand, which is challenging the time it takes to transfer patients into their care.
We have also seen a shift in locations of demand, with the movement of a number Victorians outside of metropolitan Melbourne associated with the ability to work more flexibly and with more Victorians holidaying in Victoria. This has required us to significantly increase services to manage this demand.
#3: What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on memberships for Ambulance Victoria?
We have seen only a small increase in Ambulance Victoria memberships taken out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has refocused attention on the importance of the Victorian ambulance and health system, and we believed that more people would see the need to protect themselves against the costs.
However, our membership team reports that many Victorians feel they are less likely to need an ambulance as they are at home and not travelling. I assure you this is certainly not the case, and a great number of incidents that we attend are occurring in the home.
Another key factor behind the low uptake of membership is the large reduction of new Victorians. Some Victorians are moving out of the state, and we are not experiencing the normal volume of new people moving into Victoria.
#4: What does Ambulance Victoria need to achieve greater success as a business and as a service?
Ambulance Victoria has undergone significant reform over the past few years, including the introduction of a new Clinical Response Model to better allow us to match the right service to the right patient, which may not always be an emergency ambulance. This has provided us with a strong platform to allow us to adapt to our changing community.
In a post-pandemic world, we need to continue to strengthen and develop partnerships to allow us to maximise the benefits of this Model.
We also need to further leverage off technology to allow our paramedics in the field to appropriately refer patients to alternative care options and access patient health data to improve the care we provide.
#5: What does the next 12 months look like for Ambulance Victoria?
We are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and need to ensure we focus on continuing to deliver Best Care to the Victorian community during these difficult and challenging times.
The Victorian Government has invested in a $759 million dollar package to address the challenges being faced by Ambulance Victoria and the broader health system. This includes more frontline and secondary triage resources to manage the increase in demand. We will be heavily focused on rolling out the ambulance component of this package over the next 12 months as well as addressing the impacts that the pandemic is having on the health and wellbeing of our staff.
In addition, we need to look to the future and will be developing our next Strategic Plan that builds on what we have learnt during the pandemic and sets a very clear roadmap for us for the next five years.