Ambulance officers at the scene of an accident.
Ambulance officers at the scene of an accident. Brendan Allen

Siren call for stressed ambos

COMMUNITIES across the Northern Rivers are going “uncovered” for hours on end because paramedics are either danger-ously fatigued or being used as hospital taxi drivers.

The Northern Star has learnt that on August 17 an elderly man who suffered a cardiac arrest in Murwillumbah had to wait 30 minutes for an ambulance because the Murwillumbah crew was conducting a hospital transfer.

A bus driver performed CPR on the elderly man until an ambulance arrived, but the man died shortly after.

Only a week prior, it took an ambulance 20 minutes to respond to a serious car crash near Murwillumbah, which left one patient – a local police officer – with serious injuries.

If any of the town's three-person ambulance crew was in the area, the accident patients could have been reached within five minutes.

Health Services Union North Coast organiser Ken McIntosh said while he was not aware of the situation in Murwillumbah, he was aware of the risks involved when townships were left uncovered.

“I am aware that lives could be put at risk when ambulance vehicles are called away from their immediate townships and calling other ambulances from other towns can take some time,” he said.

The situation becomes increasingly strained when other paramedics are off-duty due to fatigue.

“Paramedics are on five or six days in a row; they start at 8am and finish at 5pm then start their on-call shift,” Mr McIntosh said. “The onus of responsibility is on the paramedics to say ‘I'm tired and I am not doing any more jobs' but a lot of people feel that if they do, they leave the town without an ambulance.”

“There are paramedics off sick, getting divorced and others on stress leave.

“We want to see a full staff review from the NSW Ambulance Service to have appropriate staffing levels to provide the emergency service and the transportation of patients when required.”

A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman said paramedics called out for extended periods of time could choose to rest and only respond to emergencies or to stand-down and rest undisturbed.

“Ambulance has a comprehensive Fatigue Management Policy which is applicable for all paramedics,” she said.

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