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Demand on Victoria’s hospitals and ambulances is increasing as the waiting list for elective surgery stabilizes

Written by Javed Iqbal

Since Alex Stosic’s heart failed in 2021, everyday tasks like waking up and getting dressed take hours and require a lot of effort.

For more than a year, the normally energetic 71-year-old Frankston man, who runs his own business with his wife, has lived with his heart operating at only a fifth of its usual capacity.

Earlier this year, his surgery for a new valve was deemed semi-urgent, also known as category 2, which meant treatment was recommended within 90 days.

But he has waited more than 150 days.

Since his body shut down, Alex has lost more than 30 kilos, struggles to keep his small business afloat and has barely been able to see his grandchildren, who live in regional Victoria.

“I can only take about 20 or 40 steps and I have to have a significant rest,” he said.

“Even when I’m working on the computer, I can only really do a couple of hours and then I have to rest.”

A man wearing a cap and a black shirt sits at a desk and looks at a screen.
While he waits for the operation, Alex Stosic is only able to work on his computer in short bursts.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Normally, Alex is on the tools at his small business, which specializes in removing scratches from surfaces such as glass, but since he became ill, he has only been able to do accounts.

“It definitely limits my lifestyle and limits what I can do,” he said.

A man wearing a cap and black shirt, smiling with a dog sitting on his lap.
Alex Stosic’s dog Suzie Q barely leaves his side since he fell ill.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Alex’s poor physical health has left him and his wife Maureen largely housebound, taking a toll on his mental health and preventing him from seeing his three children and five grandchildren as much as he used to.

In Victoria, elective surgery is defined as any necessary operation that can be delayed for at least 24 hours.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, elective surgery has been repeatedly put on hold to help the state’s health system cope with an influx of cases, leading to a backlog.

In early April, the Victorian Government announced a $1.5 billion investment package to address this backlog, but as the latest wave of Omicron ramped up, the individual hospitals began to postpone all but category 1 cases again.

The latest quarterly data, published today, shows that at the end of June there were 87,275 people on the waiting list, which is slightly less than the previous three months.

This is partly due to the more than 41,000 elective operations carried out during the quarter, almost 50 per cent more than in the previous three months.

But the waiting list is dramatically higher – around 21,000 people more – than at the same time a year earlier.

And while hospital waiting lists showed little sign of stabilising, other areas of the health system came under increasing pressure.

Busiest neighborhood in Ambulance Victoria under ‘unprecedented’ demand

The three-month data, released by the government a week later than expected, showed hospital emergency room presentations had risen by 5.1 per cent in the three months to June 30.

That took the figure to 486,701 emergency calls, an increase of more than 23,000 over last quarter.

The increase is attributed to a number of factors, including deferred care from shutdowns and a more severe flu season than previous years.

“What we’re seeing in Victoria at the moment is unprecedented demand,” Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said.

Average hospital stays also increased, and sick patients stayed in beds longer.

An ambulance is parked at Alfred Hospital.
The number of Code 1 calls to paramedics has continued to rise.(AAP: Diego Fedele)

For the third consecutive quarter, Ambulance Victoria experienced its busiest three months on record.

Urgent Code 1 calls rose to 97,982, an increase of almost 5,000 over the previous quarter. This is 16 percent more than the same period last year.

Only about 64 percent of those urgent Code 1 cases were answered within the 15-minute benchmark, down from last quarter.

At least the pressure has led seven code red escalations are called in as many monthscompared to the nine called between 2017 and 2021.

Authorities have continued to urge Victorians to save triple-0 for emergencies only, with Ambulance Victoria saying around 500 calls each day did not require paramedics.

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Javed Iqbal

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