Researchers have measured the significant increase in ambulance call-outs during heatwaves.

A Griffith University study finds an uptick of around 10 per cent in the likelihood of ambulance callouts for all causes.

The increase, predominantly driven by cardiovascular issues, could be a sign of the critical challenges for emergency services and hospitals grappling with the impacts of climate change.

Dr Aaron Bach, a public health expert at Griffith University, says there is an urgent need for a comprehensive government strategy to prepare Australians for the escalating effects of heatwaves. 

“As these searingly hot days continue across the country, we’ll see a further rise in the likelihood of ambulance callouts which will shine a spotlight on the real burden that heatwaves place on our already stressed health system,” Dr Bach says.

“This research is further proof of the need to be proactive in this space and establish research initiatives and holistic heat health awareness campaigns that encompass individuals, the community and the healthcare system to create a more resilient Australia.”

The analysis, which examined studies from January 2011 to May 2023, revealed a 5 per cent increase in ambulance call-outs for cardiovascular problems during periods of elevated temperatures. 

“What we are seeing is that people are dying when it is hotter, and it is often related to an underlying chronic disease, which is why we are also seeing those cardiovascular call-outs as a very significant part of that story around impact on ambulances,” said Dr Shannon Rutherford, a co-author on the paper.

Australia's healthcare system, already tested by droughts, bushfires, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic, faces the risk of being overwhelmed as heatwaves become more frequent and intense. 

This is particularly concerning given the ageing population, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and the increased incidence of extreme weather events due to climate change.

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, coincides with oppressive heatwave conditions in Queensland and WA.

The researchers are calling for multifaceted strategies to combat the looming heatwave crisis, suggesting changes in urban planning, housing design, and community education about heat as a health risk. 

Previous research has counted 354 heatwave-related deaths in Australia between 2001 and 2018, mostly occurring in older housing without adequate cooling facilities.

In light of these findings, Griffith University's Ethos project, led by Dr Rutherford, is developing an extreme heat warning system for older Queenslanders, offering in-home solutions to monitor and respond to heat risks.