By Eleanor Wilson
The Andrews Labor Government’s handling of the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) has seen families “pushed into a corner” as a result of their under performance, according to Shadow Minister for Emergency services Brad Battin.
On Tuesday 24 May the Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon announced it was investigating a class action against the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), which is responsible for answering triple-zero calls in Victoria and dispatching medical care to critically injured and ill patients.
It comes after a review by former Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton found at least 12 Victorians, including children, have died since October while waiting for an ambulance.
Mr Battin said he “feels for the families” wrapped up in the class action investigation.
“The simple answer is the government has admitted they effectively pushed ESTA to arms length and weren’t communicating with them properly,” he said.
The law firm’s own investigations suggest that thousands of other emergency callers have experienced avoidable and unacceptable delays in their calls being answered, as well as delays in ambulances being dispatched.
It is investigating whether those who have been let down by ESTA’s call handling services are entitled to compensation.
Following Mr Ashton’s review, which put forward 20 recommendations to overhaul ESTA, the government announced it would disband ESTA’s board and rebrand it as ‘Triple Zero Victoria’.
But Mr Battin argued emergency service organisations held concern about ESTA’s capabilities for years, yet the State Government “chose to do nothing about it” until now.
“They were made aware of it and the government made the decision to ignore that for so many years,” Mr Battin said.
Slater and Gordon class actions Senior Associate Gemma Leigh-Dodds said systemic failures in how ESTA has run its core call answering and dispatch operations date back to 2014.
“ESTA’s critical role means its shortcomings are not just unfortunate, we believe they have led to multiple deaths and injuries that could have been prevented,” she said.
This year’s State Budget included a record $333 million to recruit and train an additional 400 ESTA staff, build a better support and surge capability for busy times, provide further well being support to look after front line workers, and support further IT and security system upgrades.
“Our dedicated call-takers, dispatchers and other staff at ESTA have worked tirelessly to support Victorians in the face of sustained, unprecedented pandemic-related call volumes – we cannot thank them enough,” said a Victorian Government spokesperson in a statement.
The State Government has accepted all of Ashton’s 20 recommendations “in principle” and said five of the recommendations are already being implemented.
“We really want to get this right. We need to take the time,” Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes told reporters last Thursday.