Triple zero calls spike in Qld virus wave

Nick Gibbs |

Queensland has recorded the fourth highest volume of triple zero calls for medical help as pressure from the current Omicron wave continues to impact the health system.

There are more than 570 COVID patients in Queensland hospitals, the highest number recorded during the current virus wave, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said.

A total of 3416 health workers and close to 200 paramedics are also off work due to quarantine or isolation requirements.

“That is putting pressure on the system, however, what we saw yesterday was historic,” Ms D’Ath said on Tuesday.

The previous three highest days of triple zero calls came during the first Omicron wave in January.

“It was extraordinary. No one wants to see the sort of lines that we saw outside of our hospitals with the ambulances and the delays that were incurred,” Ms D’Ath said.

An extra 400 emergency code one calls above the typical average were received, Queensland Ambulance Commissioner Craig Emery said.

Triaging methods and ongoing contact with patients meant those in the most need got a timely response, he said.

“But for sure, some of those lower acuity patients…did wait longer than we would want them to,” Mr Emery said.

The response time for code one calls was just under nine minutes, the Health Minister said.

Authorities are waiting for a breakdown of what the calls were for but Ms D’Ath said it was interesting NSW was in a similar situation. 

The 32 per cent increase in call volume prompted Telstra to contact Queensland and NSW, which was also experiencing a peak in demand, to initiate a pre-approved voice message.

The message alerted people to the high demand and advised them to call an alternative number if they weren’t in an emergency situation.

The precaution is designed to reduce pressure on the system so people can still get through to police and fire and emergency services, Ms D’Ath said.

The pre recorded message was removed at around 10pm last night and pressure eased on Tuesday, Ms D’Ath said.

“It was certainly an extraordinary time on top of hitting what I hope are some of our peak numbers as far as furloughed staff and hospital beds for COVID,” she said.

An extra 120 ambulance recruits are due to start in May as the state anticipates extra demand in winter.

Meanwhile, the state opposition believes the situation is symptomatic of issues present before the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s fair that we can give the government a leave pass and say that it’s because of COVID that Queensland Health is in crisis,” state Liberal National leader David Crisafulli said.

“Queensland Health has been in crisis for half a decade.”

He called for better triaging, more resources and the publishing of up to date wait time data.