Shortages of ambulance crews will be managed both by reducing teams to two per vehicle, from three, while Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) medics may also be drafted in to plug gaps, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday night.
The issue is particularly pressing in Tallinn, which has been virtually at breaking point since before last weekend and has seen both lines of ambulances waiting at hospitals to drop off patients, and patients being taken to hospitals as far afield as Pärnu, about 100 km from Tallinn.
The new measure came into effect Tuesday, AK reported; less experienced staff at earlier stages in their training, and also medical students, will also be permitted to work
Tallinn ambulance chief Raul Adlas told AK that the rate of call-outs has exceeded daily limits as coronavirus figures soar.
"For example, there were over 100 COVID-19 patients yesterday, and 70 the day before yesterday," Adlas said. On Saturday, Adlas had said ambulances in the capital were being summonsed on average once every 20 minutes, considerably higher than normal rates, while around half the service's disaster capacity was being used.
Lilian Lääts, head of the ambulance wing at the North Estonian Medical Center (PERH) in Mustamäe, said that both students and EDF medics would be taken on if need be, if they haven't already.
She said: "Most students who are even interested are already either at work or had already working before the COVID-19 crisis began. But there are certainly paramedics within the EDF, and we also have paramedics in the police system. We are ready to take both of these if things become very critical."
Raul Adlas said that if the pressure continues to build, ambulances will only be able to attend in life-threatening situations; in other cases, they will not attend.
AK reported how transporting a COVID-19-positive patient has to be followed by a thorough disinfecting process, which makes the cycle of one call out particularly long. Taking a patient to Pärnu from Tallinn, which as noted has happened, plus the cleaning process, keeps the vehicle occupied for four hours (at which time it would still be in Pärnu – ed.).
Head of the crisis center Urmas Sule told AK that more flexibility in the crisis.
He said: "We have did not have the resources that we may need in an emergency. The decision ... it provides an opportunity to organize ambulance work in a different way."
In the worst-case scenario, Lilian Lääts said, reducing the crews even further, by removing a crew leader, could free up more resources, but this would literally be a driver to ferry the patient from point A to point B, and would not entail them making medical decisions, she told AK.
Editor: Andrew Whyte