NSW Ambulance call centre under investigation

NSW Ambulance has been issued with a SafeWork Provisional Improvement Notice amid an ongoing investigation into a complaint at its Northern Control Centre (NCC) at Charlestown.

The Newcastle Herald understands the complaint relates to sustained bullying of multiple staff members at the NCC, which takes triple-0 calls from people in distress.

A SafeWork NSW spokesperson confirmed the organisation was investigating a complaint at a government call centre and said the inquiry remained ongoing. A Provisional Improvement Notice is issued to an employer when a contravention to the Work Health and Safety Act needs to be addressed.

A NSW Ambulance spokesperson said the organisation had lodged an appeal.

“It is not appropriate to comment while the appeals process is underway,” the spokesperson said.

“NSW Ambulance is committed to providing advice and support to staff and to managers through an integrated support program, which includes training, resources, policies and contact officers that target early intervention if conflict arises.

“NSW Ambulance regularly reminds staff that it has been made easier to raise concerns and of the standards of behaviour that apply. To reinforce the culture of a respectful workplace, training is provided to all NSW Ambulance employees on raising and responding to workplace concerns.”

The NCC covers an area from the Hawkesbury in the south to the Queensland border in the north. It is staffed by a maximum of five call takers at a time.

Former and current workers have spoken previously about chronic under staffing and bullying in the already high-stress environment.

“The call takers in there, they are bullied to an extreme that is inhumane,” one call taker said. “We get mocked and degraded for even asking for a few seconds off the phone when we’ve had enough.”

Her concerns were echoed by at least three others who reported bullying and intimidation, saying call takers were “howled down” if they needed to take a break from the relentless and often traumatic emergency calls. 

One former call taker has previously told how, after taking two calls relating to the heartbreaking deaths of children in separate emergencies, minutes apart, he broke down. He was then handed a resignation form.

“They don’t know how to handle people who are suffering,” he said.

lallan@faifaxmedia.com.au