A Wollongong paramedic is outraged by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner's comments that the state's ambulance officers were racking up too much overtime.
Ms Skinner said she was concerned some paramedics were being paid as much as $115,000 in annual overtime on top of base salaries averaging $64,000 to $70,000.
She suggested that a "lower burden of overtime" for health workers was one way to achieve an $89 million cut in the budget for NSW hospitals this year.
But Howard Hughes, a paramedic of 20 years and Health Services Union Illawarra ambulance delegate, said officers were doing so much overtime because of staff shortages.
"That overtime involving paramedics is due to an increased workload and a lack of staff in the area to cover that workload," Mr Hughes said.
"Overtime is not usually scheduled in - it's caused by extensions of our shifts or by the bed block issues at Wollongong Hospital.
"We do 12-hour shifts but if we get a call to transport a patient or a triple-0 call half an hour before our shift is due to finish, we have to respond to that job even if it will take a further two to three hours.
"You can't not do the overtime because you have a commitment to the community to complete the job - it's not work that can be left till the next day."
Mr Hughes said there had been a 60 per cent increase in shift extensions for Illawarra ambulance officers since January 2011.
"Sure you get paid for overtime, but it's not welcome when you're nearing the end of a shift and looking forward to going home, seeing your children and enjoying a meal with your family," he said.
"Sometimes we don't see our kids for four days because they're asleep by the time we get home, and still asleep by the time we have to leave the next day."
Fatigue also became a factor when 15-hour days were a regular occurrence.
"That's a problem because you have to make snap decisions about people's lives all the time."
The NSW government this month outlined a plan to cut $3 billion from the state's overall health budget.
Under the plan $775 million will be cut over four years as part of a "labour expense cap", while another $2.2 billion will be slashed in "efficiency savings" redirected to frontline services.
Nurses are exempt from the cuts, but Ms Skinner said that local health districts could make savings by cutting overtime for health workers and reducing reliance on contract staff.
The chief executive of Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD), Sue Browbank, said the district was continually working on ways to improve efficiency.
"The health budget announcement was made a little over a week ago and ISLHD will continue to review its budget and services over the coming months," she said.