Ambos call for help to fix wounded service

FRUSTRATED: SA Ambulance Service paramedic Tess Fraser, who lives at Goolwa Beach. Photo: Dani Brown.
FRUSTRATED: SA Ambulance Service paramedic Tess Fraser, who lives at Goolwa Beach. Photo: Dani Brown.

Paramedics across South Australia are calling on the government to save the state's wounded ambulance service and hospitals.

More paramedics, more ambulances, and a fix for ambulance ramping at hospitals is what is needed to help burnt-out SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) staff and volunteers, according to paramedic Tess Fraser, who lives at Goolwa Beach.

Ms Fraser has been a paramedic in both the southern and central regions of Adelaide over the last two years, yet she knows her colleagues face these issues right across the state.

The 26-year-old spent three years studying to acquire a Bachelor of Paramedic Science at Flinders University, then volunteered in ambulance and health services in Mexico and Namibia, before returning home to begin her work as a SAAS paramedic.

"I love it, I look forward to going to work, and meeting new people," she said.

"I love being able to help the community and making a difference."

But while she does her best to provide "gold standard service", Ms Fraser and her colleagues feel like they fall short due to a lack of resourcing, meaning longer wait times for patients.

On the Fleurieu Peninsula in one day, there are six ambulance crews: one volunteer crew at Yankalilla, Goolwa, and Strathalbyn each; and at Victor Harbor there is a paramedic/intensive care paramedic crew and a transfer crew during the day, and a transfer crew in the afternoon and evening.

"After midnight, you've got one paramedic crew on the whole Fleurieu Peninsula," Ms Fraser said.

"You've got volunteers but they are limited in practice and sometimes need approval for medications and treatments."

Some of the longer trips she has had to make to cover other understaffed stations include 45 minutes from Marion to Mount Compass for a 'lights and sirens' case with stroke symptoms, and 35 minutes from Aldinga to Plympton.

"There's a delayed response to the community; when someone calls for an ambulance, they should be able to get one," she said.

She is meant to work 12-hour shifts with breaks at the four and eight-hour marks, but she said lately she had not had her first break until hour 10 or 11 and was finishing up to two hours later than she should be.

"My time book is full of penalties, and I think one shift out of the last month, so 16 shifts, I have had my break on time," she said.

"It takes its toll; I feel fatigued and exhausted, and I'm only two years in. When I applied to be a paramedic I thought it was going to be my job forever, but I'm spending my days off trying to recover from work."

"The regular stresses, we signed up for - but not this."

SA Ambulance paramedic Tess Fraser. Photo: Dani Brown.

SA Ambulance paramedic Tess Fraser. Photo: Dani Brown.

She said the lack of staff was not a result of no interest from potential paramedics; between 400 and 500 people apply to do a SAAS internship yearly, yet only 40 to 50 people receive one.

"We've got people who have just done their uni degree, they're so eager and fresh, and they get knocked back, so they end up moving to an interstate service," she said.

She said there were numerous paramedics living on the Fleurieu who made the commute to metropolitan areas for work as there was no space for them to work in their region, despite there being an older and growing population.

"The ambulance service is always busy with the population growth and the ageing population, so we're trying to get more resources," she said.

Ms Fraser said it was "heartbreaking" when, after weeks of paramedics' calls for help from the government, Premier Steven Marshall announced plans for a $700 million, 15,000-person arena in Adelaide - and no extra funding for the ambulance service.

"That was devastating - I had been working without a break and I'd worked night shift the two nights before," she said.

"The attitude (of paramedics) has been pretty negative lately, we're fed up and not feeling supported."

State government treasurer Rob Lucas said last Thursday that the government had put forward a compromise in the Ambulance Employees Association's ongoing industrial relations dispute.

An extra 50 ambulance officers would be hired if the union agreed to "sensible roster reform, ambos taking meal breaks at their nearest station and cessation of industrial action", and more would be employed once enterprise bargaining negotiations were complete.

He was "disappointed" the union had not accepted the offer and called for compromise on its behalf, as negotiations continued this week.

Ms Fraser said when she raised the issue with fellow community members, they were fully supportive of the paramedics' push for more government help.

A protest march is being held by the Ambulance Employees Association and United Fire-fighters Union of South Australia at Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga to Parliament House in Adelaide on Thursday, April 1 from 12pm, as both ambulance and firefighting staff push for more funding.

A petition is available to be signed at www.ambosunited.com.au. It must be printed and signed for it to be accepted by the government when tabled.

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