Extreme demand for ambulances in Melbourne prompted a ‘code red’ from the service overnight, as the pandemic and rising COVID-19 cases continue to strain the state’s healthcare system.

Ambulance Victoria issued an alert shortly after 12.30am on Wednesday, warning patients to expect delays if they ordered an ambulance, citing “extreme demand” in the metropolitan region.

Ambulance Victoria was under a “Code Red” alert in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Credit:Paul Rovere

It urged people to phone the government-run Nurse-on-Call — which provides health advice over the phone — or visit their local general practitioner if they did not have an emergency.

“Ambulance Victoria is experiencing an extremely high demand for ambulances in the metropolitan region,” an alert said.

“It is likely there will be a delay in an ambulance reaching you.

“Our priority is to provide care to Victorians who require life-saving assistance.”

A code red alert — the same declaration issued in Victoria for the Black Saturday bushfires and the deadly thunderstorm asthma event of 2016 — was downgraded shortly after 3am, as demand for ambulance services eased.

Later on Wednesday morning, an Ambulance Victoria spokesperson pointed to the pandemic as a reason for the extreme demand for services.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an unprecedented impact on health systems across Australia,” the spokesperson said.

“Our paramedics and patient transport workers are working extremely hard to manage the increasing demand while prioritising care to the sickest Victorians.

“Last night, Ambulance Victoria experienced a major impact on normal business delivery in the metropolitan region which resulted in longer wait times than usual for patients. This increased caseload has now eased.

“Last night, Ambulance Victoria experienced a major impact on normal business delivery.”

“Our priority is to ensure we have adequate resources for code one patients who require a lights and sirens urgent response. These patients are categorised as the sickest Victorians who require urgent life-saving care.”

The Ambulance Victoria spokesperson urged people to make sure their medications were up to date, and thanked the community who “helped us resolve this matter overnight”.

Code red or orange protocols – where people may be directed to take taxis to hospital and non-emergency vehicles can be used for emergency events – are typically used for one-off events such as bushfires or thunderstorm asthma but are now commonly being used to meet high demand unrelated to emergency incidents.

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