‘Innocent people had to die’: Mother’s mixed feelings after triple-zero overhaul

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A Melbourne woman whose daughter died during Victoria’s triple-zero crisis says she’s angry innocent people had to die to trigger changes to the state’s emergency hotline.

The Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, also known as ESTA, will become Triple Zero Victoria and more checks and balances will be put in place under draft laws introduced into parliament on Wednesday.

Jasmin Hussein’s daughter Alisha, 14, died while waiting for an ambulance.Credit: Simon Schluter

The changes, flagged last year, followed a series of articles in The Age that highlighted the number of people dying while waiting for an ambulance.

Jasmin Hussein, whose 14-year-old daughter Alisha died in 2021 after suffering an asthma attack, said she had mixed feelings about the changes.

Hussein waited more than 15 minutes for a triple-zero call to connect to an emergency operator.

“I do get happy when there are changes for the better,” she said.

“At the same time I get angry that innocent people, including my daughter, had to die to implement these changes.”

Hussein said she hoped the legislation would prevent unnecessary deaths and ensure people received emergency assistance when they most needed it.

Alisha was among 33 Victorians whose deaths were linked to delays with triple-zero services and ambulances according to a 2022 report into the state’s emergency call system.

The teenager died in the back of the family car after her parents decided to race her to hospital, while still on the phone trying to connect to an ESTA ambulance dispatcher.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday said he couldn’t promise that Victoria wouldn’t be plagued by triple-zero delays in the future.

However, he insisted that ambulance dispatchers had recruited more staff since the COVID-19 pandemic and there had been a “dramatic improvement” in response times.

“Nothing can heal the pain of the loss of a loved one. Nothing. And no one is pretending or claiming to do that,” Andrews said.

“We went through a one-in-100-year event, it put enormous pressure and strain on many different services right across our country.

“And what we have got to do, what we owe to every single Victorian – particularly those who live with tragedy every day – is to learn from that experience and be better placed for the next challenge that comes our way.

“That sense of continuous improvement is very, very important to me and to my team.”

In 2022, leaked documents showed more than 1000 Victorians could have been harmed by triple-zero delays, including very ill children and those having heart attacks.

A report from Inspector-General for Emergency Management Tony Pearce found the COVID-19 pandemic had strained Victoria’s health system – particularly ESTA – and caused answer times to blow out from the five-second target to, in some cases, more than 10 minutes.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he couldn’t promise that Victoria wouldn’t be plagued by triple-zero delays in future.Credit: Jason South

A former chairman of ESTA was pressured to resign after asking the state government for a long-term solution to a funding method he said was fundamentally flawed.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said triple-zero operators receive, on average, a call every 11 seconds and it was common for more than 95 per cent of those calls to be answered within five seconds.

“The next step, as was announced in the budget, is the replacement of the whole answer-dispatch system, the current system, which is well-advanced in its procurement stages,” she said on Wednesday.

Under the changes announced, a new operational committee will include representatives from ambulance, police, fire and the State Emergency Service who can provide advice to the body’s board to ensure Victorians calling triple zero receive the highest quality service.

There will be “robust reporting requirements” enabling Triple Zero Victoria to escalate and resolve issues that could affect emergency service delivery, and the Department of Justice and Community Safety will be required to endorse Triple Zero Victoria’s annual financial plans and operating budgets.

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