Prehosp Emerg Care. 2021 Jun 21:1-8. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2021.1944409. Online ahead of print.
Objective: Relatively little has been reported about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on emergency ambulance services. We describe the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the emergency ambulance system in Victoria, Australia.Methods: We performed an interrupted time series analysis of consecutive calls for ambulance from January 2018 to February 2021, including two waves of COVID-19. The COVID-19 lockdown period included seven months of stay-at-home restrictions (16/03/2020-18/10/2020). Nineteen weeks of post-lockdown data were included (19/10/2020-28/02/2021).Results: In total, 2,356,326 consecutive calls were included. COVID-19 lockdown was associated with an absolute reduction of 64,991 calls (almost 2,100 calls/week). According to time series analysis, lockdown was associated with a 12.6% reduction in weekly calls (IRR =0.874 [95% CI 0.811, 0.941]), however no change in long-term trend (IRR =1.000 [95% CI 0.996, 1.003]). During lockdown, the long-term trend of attendances to patients with suspected acute coronary syndromes (ACS, IRR =1.006 [95% CI 1.004, 1.009]) and mental health-related issues (IRR =1.005 [95% CI 1.002, 1.008]) increased. After lockdown, the call volume was 5.6% below pre-COVID-19 predictions (IRR =0.944 [95% CI 0.909, 0.980]), however attendances for suspected ACS were higher than predicted (IRR =1.069 [95% CI 1.009, 1.132]). Ambulance response times deteriorated, and total case times were longer than prior to the pandemic, driven predominantly by extended hospital transfer times.Conclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on the emergency ambulance system. Despite lower call volumes post-lockdown than predicted, we observed deteriorating ambulance response times, extended case times and hospital delays. The pattern of attendance to patients with suspected ACS potentially highlights the collateral burden of delaying treatment for urgent conditions.