Gippsland ambulance ‘under-resourced’

STATE Government claims of boosted ambulance services are not being felt on the ground in the Latrobe Valley, according to the Ambulance Employees Australia of Victoria.

A recent announcement that the rollout of 340 new ambulance staff across the state was on track was challenged by AEA Victoria general secretary Steve McGhie last week when he told The Express Gippsland was the “most under-resourced region in the state” and had been “for some time”.

Mr McGhie said in a region where towns were expanding and the population was ageing, the resourcing of ambulance crews had not grown appropriately. “We can’t keep pace in Gippsland,” he said.

The State Government recently said it was delivering on its $151 million election commitment to employ 310 additional paramedics and 30 patient transfer officers over five years, and that 113 new paramedics had so far been deployed to ambulance stations across Victoria.

Mr McGhie said 113 new paramedics was “nowhere near enough”, given Freedom of Information documents obtained in 2011 showed there had been 1500 occasions last year through rural and regional Victoria that ambulances could not be staffed.

Mr McGhie also questioned claims 30 new patient transport officers had been employed, including one in Morwell.

He said the government had also suggested an additional three paramedics had been allocated to Morwell but “those are three people who used to work in the communications centre (since relocated to Ballarat) so they have been redeployed; they are not additional staff and that does not represent additional resources”.

Similarly “fudged figures” had been used to announce extra staff in Wonthaggi where one staffer had been relocated from nearby Foster but was referred to as a new employee, Mr McGhie said.

“On-the-ground paramedics across the state, particularly in rural Victoria and in Gippsland, have expressed concern about vacancies and vacant shifts being left unfilled and they have had enough,” he added.

The State Government maintains, however, that it is working with Ambulance Victoria to support the areas of “highest need” as part of the “single biggest increase in additional staffing for the ambulance service in the state’s history”.

State Health Minister David Davis said the extra patient transport officers would relieve pressure on paramedics so they were available to respond to life-threatening emergencies.

The Express has learned of a recent incident where a local man waited more than an hour for an ambulance and subsequently died hours later in hospital.

Ambulance Victoria acting regional manager Gippsland Mick Stephenson said the organisation would not comment on the incident “out of respect for the patient’s family privacy.”

He said it would be “inappropriate of us to publicly discuss details of the case with the media at this time” but added “we were saddened to hear of the patient’s subsequent passing and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Mr McGhie said the incident reflected the difficulties facing under-staffed local paramedics.

“That man should have been deemed an emergency, and at worst… he should have been a code two which should take 25 minutes (to respond to), while a code one is 15 minutes,” he said.