Having a reliable and responsive ambulance service provides reassurance to the community that in an emergency situation a first class service is available. This essential service has been delivered across most of Western Australia by St John Ambulance (WA) since 1922. Delivering the service in often very difficult circumstances relies on the skills and dedication of paramedics, transport officers and, in country areas, volunteers.
In response to questions over the reliability and responsiveness of WA’s ambulance services in 2009, the Government launched an Inquiry which made a number of recommendations for change, to be supported by increased government funding. I am pleased to report that the implementation of those recommendations, and the increased funding, has improved ambulance services overall in WA. The service has greater capacity, its responsiveness has improved, clinical monitoring is more extensive and there is increased support for volunteers.
During the period since the Inquiry, ambulance ramping has increased significantly, and appears set to reach its highest levels to date this winter. While its causes lie largely outside the control of the ambulance service, ramping represents a major threat to sustaining the improvements achieved so far, particularly in responsiveness.
There are areas where change would help deliver further improvements. Specifically, the contractual framework and funding model now need to move beyond being a vehicle for implementing the Inquiry recommendations and focus more on service performance and quality. This would better enable WA Health to demonstrate the quality, reliability, responsiveness and value for money of the ambulance service to Parliament and the community.