Lives could be lost if Illawarra’s team of specialist paramedics – tasked to assist patients in the most remote or dangerous locations – are pulled off the road, according to their union.
The Health Services Union (HSU) claims that from March the Illawarra’s special operations paramedics will be switched to the general duties roster due to a massive staffing shortfall.
HSU NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said there’s 37 full-time positions vacant in the region. Tasking the specialist crew to general duties to fill those gaps means they will not have access to their vehicles – designed to deal with tough and isolated terrain – and specialised rescue and breathing equipment.
These specialist paramedics are often deployed to multi-casualty accidents or disasters and are trained to assist in swift water and cliff rescues, bushfires and accidents in confined spaces.
And HSU representative, and Special Operations Team (SOT) paramedic Stuart Peterson fears that “lives may be put at risk” without them.
“If someone falls off a rock ledge, or gets into trouble bushwalking or in the water – any of these incidents that are time critical may lead to adverse outcomes if there’s no specialist team readily available to respond,” Mr Peterson said.
“From March 2, all SOT members have been removed from the roster in the Illawarra and we don’t know when they will be put back on specialist duties.
“It’s a huge concern as the warmer weather means people are out and about and they’re more active, and more inclined to suffer anything from dehydration to traumatic injury.”
HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said SOT paramedics also provided assistance to other emergency services, such as NSW Police, NSW Fire and Rescue and the Rural Fire Service.
“It gets frustrating when we have an established level of care and service delivery, and yet that continually gets downgraded due to the fact there’s not enough people to do the job,” he said.
“When you have trained special operations paramedics to be experts in their field, and have supplied them with the equipment and vehicles to do their job, only to put them in other roles doesn’t make sense.
“All paramedics are able to deliver expert care, but in situations where accessing people is problematic as they’re in difficult or confined spaces, that’s where this group comes into their own.”
Mr Hayes said SOT paramedics had not been retasked elsewhere in the state.
“The Illawarra has been dealing with understaffing for many years,” he said.
“This region is a significant part of NSW and why it deserves a second-rate system, a system that is constantly undermined, is beyond me.”
NSW Ambulance has been contacted for comment.