Virtual ED doubled to ease Vic ambo crunch

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A Victorian hospital's virtual emergency department program will be doubled in a bid to relieve COVID-related pressure on sick and tired paramedics.

Hundreds more patients a day will soon be able to access a video consultation from home with an emergency doctor or nurse as part of the Northern Hospital's virtual service.

Under the existing statewide program, patients can be connected to the online service by paramedics on the scene for virtual assessment, management and referral.

Eligibility criteria is also being expanded to aged care residents and COVID Positive Pathways patients, providing greater access to antiviral treatments.

The expansion of the virtual ED service was announced by the Victorian government on Monday, as part of its new $162 million health package.

"That means there's less trips, less transport, more ambulances freed up to attend to the next triple-zero emergency," Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.

"That's a great thing for the system."

Almost 30,000 Victorians have accessed the service since it opened in October 2020, with 71 per cent of those patients avoiding an in-person ED trip.

Up to 300 patients a day use the service at present, but Mr Andrews said that number would soon rise to 600 and beyond 700 from early next year.

"It's already running at a great pace so it'll be able to flex up fairly quickly, and that's very important given the pressures that we have at the moment" he said.

In further measures, Ambulance Victoria's offload teams will be expanded to 14 major public hospitals and new rostering patterns trialled for advanced life-support paramedics in four Melbourne areas

Its long-running surge workforce has also been extended for another three months and into the spring, when the current Omicron BA.4 and .5 sub-variants wave is likely to tail off.

The promises come a day after the Andrews government pledged to fund 400 extra specialist workers across 12 hospitals to combat rising COVID-19 hospitalisations and staff absenteeism.

With almost 1900 health workers off work with COVID on Sunday and more away with other illnesses and fatigue, Mr Andrews warned the next few weeks would be challenging.

"Any system with a couple of thousand people away each day ... that makes life really, really challenging," he said.

Deputy Victorian Liberal Leader David Southwick said frontline workers are doing their best to cope with extreme circumstances after being "let down" by the government.

"This is all too little too late," he said.

"We're a few months out from the election and miraculously the premier's pulled some money out of the war chest."

Victoria reported 10,251 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths on Monday, as the number of people battling the virus in hospital jumped to 821.

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