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Triple Zero is not a Covid hotline



Code Red is an escalation strategy under the state emergency response plan, normally reserved for disaster type events like bushfires and thunderstorm asthma.On Monday night the volume of calls to triple-0 far outweighed the resources available. At one point there were 135 “pending” cases, meaning 135 people needed an ambulance but none were available. As we hit the peak of the Omicron wave, we are seeing the workload we normally have on New Year’s Eve occurring every night.Our members at the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority tell us about half the calls they are taking are Covid related, but only one in five of those are actual emergencies. Most are queries about where to get tests, concerns about test results, vaccination questions or people with mild symptoms like a sore throat or mild fever.Sometimes there are fewer than 10 ambulance call-takers for the entire state and every time they have to take a Covid inquiry, they are unable to take a more urgent call.Our paramedics have responded to patients in cardiac arrest, where a family member has stated that they were on hold for 18 minutes before their call was answered.With so many changing rules, and mixed messaging it is easy to see why people are confused. But please keep one thing very clear, triple-0 is not for these queries.When you call triple-0 for non-emergencies and Covid questions, you are not just wasting your own time you are wasting the triple-0 call-takers time and that can cause a catastrophic delay to someone who really needs emergency care. Paramedics regularly get sent to patients in the early hours of the morning for minor medical issues and they hear “Sorry, I just didn’t know who else to call”.At 2am the options are limited but 12 hours earlier there are a multitude of options other than triple-0. If you or a relative has a chronic health condition, is feeling unwell or worried that you may need assistance, now is the time to see your GP, while the sun is up.If you can’t get to a face-to-face appointment, there are often options for an online telehealth appointment, which many GPs are doing.And even if it is 2am, you should still try your GP or another local doctor’s clinic. Many have after hours on-call services that can come out to your home if needed.There are some very good after-hours doctor services that can easily be found online. They will probably get to you long before an ambulance will if your issue is not an emergency.Pharmacists provide a wealth of health advice as well as medication for minor health issues. Their advice is free, some are open 24 hours, and some have after hours nursing services.The Victorian Covid hotline on 1800 675 398 or the national Covid hotline on 1800 020 080 are where you start for anything Covid related and Nurse-On-Call on 1300 606 024 can give immediate health advice from a registered nurse, 24/7 days a week. They can also give you information about health services in your area.All these options are under immense strain so please call them early and be patient.A common myth is that a paramedic can get you into a busy emergency department faster than if you presented to hospital yourself.Every paramedic hears “I called triple-0 because I don’t want to wait, and you can get me straight in”. This is completely wrong.All presentations to hospital, including by ambulance are triaged through the same process, so you will go to the waiting room when it is busy, and rest assured it will be very busy for weeks to come. Unless it is a genuine emergency, your time is best spent looking for the most appropriate option and there are many options available if you get onto it early.The patient in cardiac arrest only has one option. In Victoria we have the best paramedics anywhere in the world. But they can’t save the patient that they can’t get to.So please make the right call. Danny Hill is general secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union

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