Paramedics “overstretched”

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United Voice WA Assistant Secretary Pat O'Donnell says St John Ambulance must resolve their rostering problems to stop fatigue in paramedics.

Up to 22 paramedics a night are not showing up for work, forced to book time off because of fatigue and understaffing.

United Voice WA assistant secretary Pat O’Donnell said a decision to use paramedics to relieve staff at two of Perth’s biggest hospitals, coupled with increased transfers and driving times, was reducing morale.

He said the Health Department’s $2.5 million contract to provide staff at Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, as well as a third roving crew, was taking staff off the road to do a job that in some instances should be done by hospital staff.

“St John failed to consult with paramedics or adequately consider the impact the Government’s ramping strategy would have on the ambulance crews on the road,” he said. “Not replacing ambulance crews on road inevitably increases pressure and fatigue on those that have to work even harder to keep up with the workload.”

A paramedic who spoke to The West Australian on condition of anonymity said the past few weeks had been “hard yakka”.

“It’s not uncommon that we have nine crews, that’s 18 staff, not come into work on their second night shift,” she said.

“People will ask for overtime and we’re told there’s none available, so the crews that do come in work harder to fill the gaps.”

Three weeks ago 11 crews booked time off on a single night, a figure previously unheard of, the paramedic said.

Mr O’Donnell said more pressure was being placed on an “already overstretched” workforce.

“By the time paramedics get back to base without a break they walk out like zombies.”

St John WA Ambulance service director Iain Langridge said it was disappointing that some would seek to put doubt in the minds of the general public about the quality of patient care.

He said 38 new ambulance officers would start this weekend.

“In addition St John is employing an extra cohort of qualified paramedics who will become operational in August 2016,” Mr Langridge said.

“The planned addition of extra paramedics has been deliberately designed to coincide with the annual increase in workload during winter,” Mr Langridge said.

He said claims that overtime was not being offered or filled were “simply untrue”.

Mr O’Donnell said the new ambulance officers were a step in the right direction but would not solve “St John’s rostering problems”.

Source: The West Australian