Thursday, 11 March 2010
Paterson Electorate: Ambulance Crews
I rise today as a concerned member of my local community who may one day have to rely on an ambulance and the expertise of those on board. The New South Wales Labor government has a plan to use volunteer ambulance drivers in Stroud, Gloucester and Bulahdelah, which all fall within my electorate of Paterson. This is extremely concerning. It is a thoughtless, penny-pinching way of trying to make up for the fact that neither our state nor our federal Labor governments have provided enough funding to train adequate numbers for the ambulance corps. I must make it very clear that volunteers are the absolute backbone of our society. They do tireless work, not only without pay but often without thanks or recognition. I sincerely thank them. However, responding to a stressful and often life-threatening medical situation of this magnitude is not a job for volunteers. This is a responsibility that should only be given to the most highly trained, professional paramedics working in teams of two so that lives can saved.
Allow me to give some background on the training of our paramedics. Firstly, there are qualified paramedics. These people have done at least three years of intensive training, including four written exams and 10 months probation on the road. They then move on to be a paramedic intern. This involves another two years of practice, mentoring and more intensive training. They would have many skills, including CPR and haemorrhage control, and an intimate knowledge of the many different drugs. They have to requalify every 18 months. Finally, there are intensive care paramedics, who deal with even more serious cases, including cardiac care. An ICP can administer 27 specialist medications to both adults and children. Clearly, these are people who are highly trained to deal with emergency situations and to give patients quick, accurate and vital medical care. They have years of intense training and in many cases decades of experience on the road. These are people who should not be replaced by volunteers, should not be responsible for volunteers and should be supported and protected by a professional colleague in a two-person crew.
These two-person crews are vitally important so that each and every life-saving treatment can be delivered. If volunteers are used, this simply cannot happen. For example, in the outer Hunter, paramedics are authorised to give two specialised medications to someone having a heart attack. But, according to protocol, this medication cannot be used unless two paramedics agree that the patient meets the criteria. So, if there is only one trained paramedic on the scene, the patient just has to go without. This could be the difference between a life saved and a life lost.
Another important consideration for paramedics in my electorate is the roads through Gloucester, Stroud and Bulahdelah, which are dangerous black spots. This means that the likelihood of a motor vehicle accident needing an ambulance is a very real possibility. Under Labor’s plans, volunteers would have to be phoned up at all hours of the night and drive these same roads to get to the ambulance station. Are we seriously supposed to believe this is a workable and safe idea? I note these measures have only been suggested for regional towns, and so I ask our Labor governments: why should those of us in regional areas have to put up with substandard ambulance services? Are our lives and our safety of less value than those in the city?
I have started a petition to stop this reckless proposal, and I have strong support. Already there are over 200 members of my Facebook cause page against this idea. It is my job to take action on behalf of concerned constituents. It is also important that I take action because local Health Services Union organiser, Jim Arneman, has failed to bring about a solution to this problem, despite his position in the union and the Labor Party. Mr Arneman has been quick to speak on this issue, but his action has been extremely lacking. In the media this week Mr Arneman blames the New South Wales ambulance service for this plan, even though it is our state Labor government which has failed to invest enough money to train adequate paramedics. Some local ambulance drivers have even told me they left the HSU because they were not being properly represented. A new body, the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, has now been established and has more than 700 members.
While volunteers are absolutely vital in keeping our society running smoothly, they do not have a place as ambulance drivers. The New South Wales and Australian Labor governments need to take action now to ensure that enough paramedics are trained for two-person crews right across New South Wales—regional and city areas alike—as patients such as those in Paterson deserve the best care possible, and that means fully trained, properly qualified ambulance crews, not crews manned by volunteers.