Illawarra paramedics have pleaded for more resources as an understaffed workforce scrambles to meet the needs of ambulance patients from one end of the district to another.
Claims made by paramedics belonging to the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association (EMSPA) have painted a grim picture of the state of the ambulance service, and include reports of fatigued paramedics working 12-hour shifts with no breaks.
EMSPA NSW regional liaison officer Dave Palmer said at least 30 extra staff and three additional ambulances were needed in the Illawarra to meet demand.
He also criticised the policy of ‘‘fluid deployment’’, where an ambulance in Bomaderry could be tasked to the northern Illawarra if resources were stretched.
‘‘The problem is that if workload spikes in the other area a situation arises where there may not be enough paramedics to cover the increased demand,” Mr Palmer said.
‘‘EMSPA NSW is deeply concerned about the fine line trodden by Ambulance when areas are left uncovered to cover increased demand elsewhere.
‘‘By doing this the problem in one area is resolved but creates a potential risk elsewhere.’’
He said attempts made by NSW Ambulance to reduce backlogs at hospitals had done little to reduce the shortage of ambulances responding to triple-0 calls.
‘‘We’re running a very fine line... if the workload spikes we’re screaming for cars.’’
He said the areas most in need of additional ambulances were Bulli, Oak Flats, and the Shoalhaven.
‘‘Thirty staff would fill three full-time ambulances and allow for relief components – allow us a bit of buffering,’’ he said.
‘‘Most people would not disagree we need more staff in the area.’’
Mr Palmer said the problem was not unique to the Illawarra, and he held concern for the safety of patients and paramedics across the state.
However, a NSW Ambulance spokesman said the Illawarra had 12 more paramedics than the funded paramedic establishment figures for the area.
‘‘Ambulances and paramedics do not belong to one particular area but are fluidly deployed on an as-needs basis to cover triple-0 emergencies; the closest available NSW Ambulance resource will always be responded to a patient with a medical emergency,’’ the spokesman said.
The cost of an ambulance and equipment on the road is $140,000. Crew costs depend on skillsets.
Legal eagle union’s new negotiator
The NSW Paramedics Union (EMSPA) has just appointed a professional industrial relations officer as it continues to grow after its split from the Health Services Union.
Illawarra paramedics officially won the right to be represented by their own union in a NSW Industrial Commission ruling in May this year, 3 years after EMSPA began representing paramedics within the HSU.
Previously, the HSU was the only official union for medical workers, many of whom became disillusioned with the organisation after a spate of scandals.
Harini Kasturiarachchi is a solicitor who has previously represented EMSPA through law firm Harris and Wheelers Lawyers, as well as the Police Association of NSW.
She said she had been appointed so the union had a spokesperson who wasn’t directly connected to the, at times, emotive issues paramedics faced.
‘‘My role is to look at things objectively with legal expertise and because I’m not a paramedic I’m less inclined to get angry and act straight away,’’ she said.
‘‘They [paramedics] are very passionate about what they do.
‘‘I can think outside the box and wouldn’t have my own personal agenda.’’