Limiting ambo overtime causes delays

NSW Ambulance has admitted culpability for two recent Hunter Region cases where patients in emergency situations suffered long waits for paramedics.

The two cases in the Dungog area were raised by the Health Services Union, which accused the government of putting budget cuts before public safety.

The union’s state secretary, Gerard Hayes, said  in both cases ambulance dispatchers sent crews from more distant stations  rather than trigger overtime payments by calling out off-duty paramedics at Dungog.

In the first case, on January 30, an elderly woman with cardiac issues waited 38minutes for an ambulance from Stroud.

In the second, on February 8, it took 53minutes for an ambulance from Raymond Terrace to reach an elderly woman lying on the ground after a fall in her home at Clarence Town.

The woman, who was complaining of various injuries, had triggered her Vital Call personal alarm.

When operators there could not contact her directly, they rang triple-0 at 6.29am.

Mr Hayes said the communications centre did not send the on-call Dungog crew because another crew was starting a regular shift at Raymond Terrace at 7am.

‘‘Soon after 7am, the communications centre realised there was only one officer at Raymond Terrace and so they sent the Dungog crew after all,’’ Mr Hayes said.

The ambulance service and the union have clashed a number of times recently over rostering and overtime issues.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner was reported last year as saying some ambulance officers had earned more than $100,000 a year in overtime payments.

Mr Hayes said yesterday  if overtime costs were too high it was because the state was short of at least 700 paramedics.

When the  Herald first asked about the union claims, the ambulance service said they should be seen in light of the rostering dispute, which was due to return to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on Monday.

But after investigating the circumstances, the service said ‘‘on-call resources should have been used’’ in both cases and acknowledged ‘‘the distress’’ that such delays could cause.

‘‘NSW Ambulance considers this a serious matter and, pending the outcome, appropriate action will be taken,’’ a spokesman said.

‘‘We are currently investigating these cases to establish the reasons why the decision not to dispatch on-call services was made.

‘‘In the meantime, staff have been reminded of the correct procedures to follow in these circumstances.’’

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