... warning inadequate resources are putting the public at risk

The Tasmanian Government has been urged to fund 107 additional salaried paramedics at Ambulance Tasmania, deploy additional resources to high-risk parts of the state, improve management and support, and address the impacts of declining volunteer number on response times.

Representatives of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Paramedics Association last month met with Health Minister Michael Ferguson to outline issues facing Ambulance Tasmania, along with a range of practical solutions that should be funded in the 2017-18 State Budget.

The proposals focused on reducing the burden on overstretched emergency personnel and improving services for the public, with key recommendations including:
* the immediate employment of 107 additional salaried paramedics at Ambulance Tasmania;
* the immediate deployment of additional paramedics to high risk areas where no resources are currently available within 100 kilometres, such as the area between Triabunna and St Helens;
* improved management, supervision and support for front-line staff who currently have one Duty Manager covering up to 200 officers;
* the implementation of recommendations from the 2010 review of Ambulance Tasmania; and
* a commitment that there will be no reduction in staff numbers or ambulance stations.

Minister Ferguson was warned by paramedics that ambulance services are stretched to breaking point, with a lack of resources at Ambulance Tasmania, declining volunteer numbers, and high levels of stress and fatigue leaving the community with the slowest response times in the country.

APA Tasmania members, who are all working paramedics, are not permitted to speak publicly about problems facing Ambulance Tasmania, however, APA NSW president Steve Pearce is available to outline their concerns.

“Tasmanian paramedics have taken their message directly to the state government to warn that a lack of resources combined with surging workloads have pushed Ambulance Tasmania to crisis point, with the end result being patients enduring lengthy waits for medical assistance,” Mr Pearce said.

“These concerns were confirmed by the most recent Report on Government Services (RoGS) that found Ambulance Tasmania not only had the worst response times in the country, but they are getting slower, with it now taking almost 13 minutes on average for an ambulance to reach the most critical jobs.

“Across the state, long shifts and excessive overtime are leading to dangerous levels of fatigue and stress. Paramedics are reporting that they are being directed to work long hours along with unreasonable amounts of overtime in an attempt to cover staff shortages and plug rostering gaps. Even staff who are on leave are being called in to fill shifts.

“While Ambulance Tasmania is heavily reliant on volunteers — 40 per cent of Ambulance response locations are covered by Volunteer Ambulance Officers only — volunteer numbers are in decline. As a result, every day volunteer stations and response teams are remaining unfilled, resulting in delays with crews attending.

“Double branch stations — including those at Sorell, Huonville and New Norfolk — rely on volunteers to work full 10 hour day shifts and 14 hour night shifts. When they are unable to attend they are not covered with salaried staff, resulting in the single Branch Station Officer needing to be backed up with another response at every emergency case.

“The generosity of these volunteer ambulance officers is being used and abused. Not only do they not receive any remuneration, they don’t even receive meal vouchers of compensation for the fuel they use in their private vehicles working for Ambulance Tasmania.

“In 2010, the Tasmanian Government spent more than $180,000 on a review of Ambulance Tasmania resource management. Seven years on, less than 10 per cent of the recommendations from that review have been acted on.

“The only new resources that Ambulance Tasmania has delivered in the past seven years have been an Extended Care Paramedic resource for Launceston and Hobart, an afternoon shift for the North West region, and a 96 hour on-call night resource in Oatlands.

“During the last financial year, Ambulance Tasmania had 108 primary general purpose vehicles, which was the same number as six years earlier, while the number of response locations had only increased by one during that time.

“Likewise, the fresh intake of graduates and ambulance officers from other states in recent weeks simply filled existing shortfalls, rather than resulting in any additional resources.”

Mr Pearce said as yet the Tasmanian Government had not implemented any of the recommendations put forward by paramedics, but they hoped funding for some would be included in next week’s budget.

“There is no question that Ambulance Tasmania is in crisis, paramedics are at breaking point, and the public aren’t receiving the service they deserve,” he said.

“Tasmanian paramedics don’t just want to highlight the problems facing the service, they have developed practical solutions that are available to be implemented now, but they need the government to have the political will to act.

“Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen the opposite occurring, resulting in resources and staff being further stretched, and the public enduring poorer health outcomes.

“It’s time for the Tasmanian Government to take decisive action, to listen to the people on the ground, and to invest in the additional resources urgently needed to allow Ambulance Tasmania to meet the demands being placed on it.”

Report on Government Services data regarding the performance of Australian ambulance services: http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2017/health/ambulance-services