“People are dying, there is no doubt about that.”
These are the words of Chris Robson, Ambulance Employee’s Association executive officer, who says it is the cold reality faced by local SA Ambulance paramedics.
Currently, Barossa is serviced by two ambulance crews on shift during the day and overnight, this changes to one ambulance crew on shift with the other crew on-call at home. It’s a situation paramedics say not only increases response times to emergency incidents, but is also a danger to staff.
“This on-call crew work four days and nights in a row – up to 96 hours straight!” explained Chris.
“We want to get rid of on-call for the wellbeing of staff, it’s fatiguing, it’s dangerous and the shifts are archaic. Shiftwork is a killer, but having on-call, makes it twice as hard. Even when the on-call crew are not dispatched, they are not mentally able to switch off from the job.
“We want to replace it with a full time car which requires six extra staff, and maintain two emergency ambulances in the Barossa.”
Whilst historically the roster wasn’t considered too much of a burden because overnight workloads were low, with increased population, dwindling local hospital services such as birthing and the practice of ramping at metropolitan hospitals, that situation has changed dramatically.
Yet when Chris started in the Barossa back in 1993, there were two ambulance vehicles and 27 years later, there are still only two.
“We don’t have an Emergency Support Service (ESS) vehicle, we don’t have a Regional Medical Transfer Service vehicle (RMTS). All we have here is two emergency vehicles and we do priorities 1 through 8, there are only 8 priorities! We do everything – hospital transfers, out patient appointments, we do the most critical cases through to the lowest acuity cases.
“So, one of these cars would be tasked to take a patient from Angaston Hospital down to Lyell McEwin and we’ve lost that car for three hours, maybe more if they are ramped. If that car is doing that, who is doing the emergency work?
“I can tell you it won’t be Gawler because they are so busy they can’t come up here – they’ve only got one vehicle.
“I know both crews here in the Barossa are out working all the time.”
Chris said during on-call night shifts when the ambulance vehicles are based at a crew member’s private home, crucial response times are increased.
“You have to wake up, look at your pager, work out what you are doing, get dressed, go out to the car, start it up and then you have to meet your partner somewhere! From here (Angaston Ambulance base) when they get a job they already have a crew so they can respond straight away.”
Next month, the Ambulance Employee Association, including Chris, will take their concerns to the SA Employment Tribunal.
“People are dying because of ramping…Our response times are blowing out of the water.”
An affidavit, which will be presented to court by SAAS upper management, has Chris and fellow paramedics ready to fight.
“It is their view that an RMTS crew could be utilised to replace the Emergency Ambulance crew. With this model, the RMTS crew would primarily take on the low priority work load across the lower north region which takes in Clare, Burra and Balaklava, leaving only one Emergency Ambulance crew in the Barossa to deal with the high priority incidents,” said
“We opposed that idea five years ago! We said no, we are not putting up with it!
“Our argument is we don’t care how much it costs, the people of Barossa and South Australia deserve Better.
“Barossa deserves two emergency crews and one RMTS crew, the same as Murray Bridge, Victor Harbor and Mt Gambier who have similar size populations and workload.”
Chris said the government’s own modelling stated South Australia needed 400 extra ambulance personnel.
“That’s why the AEA is fighting the state government and SAAS. We want to provide the best coverage we can to the Barossa and wider community, as well as Gawler and we need a proper funding model for the service.”