Health Minister Jillian Skinner's public thank-you yesterday to the state's 3500 paramedics "rang hollow" for a workforce "chronically overworked and understaffed", their union said.
Paramedics were angry with Mrs Skinner's "lack of engagement on issues that affect every community in the state", the Health Services Union NSW said on Thank a Paramedic Day.
Illawarra paramedics have supported protests in Parramatta and Tamworth, where paramedics have been wearing yellow emergency vests to draw attention to "the dangers of workplace stress and fatigue". They have distributed bumper stickers stating: "Caution, Fatigued Paramedics on Duty" and "Stop Revive Survive (Paramedics Excluded)".
They have also urged people to send postcards to Mrs Skinner with a graphic crash-scene photo on the front and message: "If you won't ride with a drink-driver ... why should you accept a fatigued paramedic?"
The flip side of the postcard features a letter to Mrs Skinner, urging her to "boost ambo numbers as a matter of urgency".
Illawarra sources said day shift hours had been extended by 71.92 per cent since the region was included in the metropolitan division in January last year.
Data from a "test station" in the Illawarra showed night-shift hours had increased by 39.71 per cent.
"That means you have paramedics going to work at 7am, not taking any breaks and finishing work at 10pm on a regular basis," a source said.
HSU spokesman David Lipman said: "If the minister wants to show her appreciation of our hard-working members, she should listen to their concerns.
"Staffing is stretched to breaking point. The roll-out of controversial new rosters in regional NSW is seeing an unprecedented number of rostered paramedic shifts being covered on overtime or being run vacant.
"In Sydney, Newcastle and the Illawarra it's becoming more common year-round that there aren't crews available to cover officers who are held up at hospitals, unable to respond to emergencies."
Mr Lipman said staffing levels "are still where they were 10 years ago".
Mrs Skinner hit back, saying that "on a day when the community is celebrating the role of the Ambulance Service of NSW, the Health Services Union is using this as an opportunity to electioneer".
"It's disgraceful that the HSU, rather than patting our paramedics on the back, is campaigning to remain relevant," she said.
Since 2006-07, there had been an 18.4 per cent increase in the paramedic workforce, she said.
"This is compared to an increase of 10.6 per cent in incidents attended over the same period.