PARAMEDICS at Narooma and across NSW voted on Friday night to reject an Industrial Relations Commission recommendation to adopt proposed roster changes that are due to commence in November.
Narooma paramedic and local Health Services Union spokesman Simon Gilbert called the Ambulance Service rosters “breathtakingly stupid”.
“My paramedics will be asked to work seven days straight, more hours on call, more consecutive nights on call as well as an evening shift and less days off to recover,” Mr Gilbert said.
“Despite all this, the number of ambulances available in town during the busy day shift period will drop from two to one.
“If that ambulance is out of town taking someone for a scan or medical appointment then there will be no back up available.
“So if your child is choking or your partner is having a heart attack then you will have to wait for an ambulance from a neighbouring town 40 kilometres away.”
The proposed rosters showed not only an absolute contempt for paramedics and their families, but also a complete disregard for the safety of the community, he said.
Local paramedics say there has been no genuine consultation and paramedics have been left with the difficult choice of taking strike action in order protect themselves and the community.
And with all the Far South Coast stations affected, they foresee the circumstance where the shortage of staff could mean getting an ambulance to attend might not be an option.
They scoff at the suggestion of extra shifts by the Ambulance Service saying despite the changes being all about supposed cost cuts, the new system will actually cost more and spread resources very thin.
Paramedics “gutted”, but fight continues
The campaign by rural paramedics to stave off the introduction of dangerous rosters took a blow last week in the Industrial Relations Commission, the Health Services Union said.
The IRC’s Justice Staff has recommended that the rosters, which will see the Union’s members in country NSW working more frequent shifts and longer on-call periods, can be introduced starting from this Friday.
“Our members are reeling from this decision,” HSU acting industrial manager Tom Stevanja said.
“We’ve been fighting for months against these changes which are certain to put rural paramedics at risk of fatigue, and of the accidents and errors that arise from fatigue.
“The recommendations rely on management at the local level acting to address issues affecting individual officers.
“We don’t see this as workable. The rosters are inflexible and staff levels are critically inadequate.
“One of the key issues in overwork for rural paramedics is that they are called on to perform long-distance transports of patients between hospitals.
“These are often scheduled after hours and are a known contributor to fatigue.
“Justice Staff’s recommendations rely on the Ambulance Service negotiating with local health authorities to minimise these trips. Our experience shows this is just not going to happen.”
HSU delegates are currently meeting to discuss their options in the light of the ruling.
“Our members are angry and frustrated,” Mr Stevanja said.
“They’re gutted, but they know that they owe it to themselves and to their communities to keep up the fight.”
Ambulance Service not swayed in roster debate
THE Ambulance Service of NSW has welcomed a decision from the Industrial Relations Commission which ruled in favour of reforms to paramedic rosters in regional NSW.
Acting Chief Executive Mike Willis said the decision from His Honour, Justice Staff supports the Ambulance reform process.
“Ambulance is changing paramedic rosters to better meet the needs of the communities of regional NSW,” Mr Willis said.
“In regional NSW where peak demand period continues into the evenings, on-call paramedics currently face extended work hours due to the high number of disturbances out of hours.
“The new roster system sees additional shifts introduced during this peak evening period to reduce that need for paramedics to be called out after hours. This helps support better patient response and helps minimise staff fatigue.”
Mr Willis said Ambulance agrees to the recommendations of Justice Staff:
* Ambulance will undertake a review of the workability of the rural reform rosters in respect of phase one, after such rosters have operated for a period of three consecutive 28 day roster periods.
* Ambulance will take into account the desires of paramedics to work particular days, as well as instituting recommended human resource management processes to deal with grievances if they are not addressed at local level.
* Ambulance will liaise with Local Health Districts with a view to minimising, as far as possible, non-urgent hospital transfers between midnight and 8am, and any other matters to assist with addressing paramedic fatigue.
* In line with the Industrial Relations Act 1996, the Health Services Union and Ambulance employees are not to organise, participate or be involved in any industrial action arising from the introduction of the rural reform rosters at regional non-24 hour stations, which provides for the working of an eight-hour day shift and an eight-hour afternoon shift.
The introduction of new rosters will be undertaken over a number of weeks to enable paramedics to make the necessary adjustments to family and child care arrangements.