Idle ambulance data challenged

DATA showing ambulances sat idle for more than 300 “unfilled shifts” in Gippsland last year has been challenged by Ambulance Victoria.

This week Opposition Parliamentary Secretary for Health Wade Noonan released documents obtained under Freedom of Information showing 311 paramedic shifts went unfilled in the region in 2012.

“Every time a shift goes unfilled people living across the Gippsland region are left dangerously exposed,” Mr Noonan said.

He attributed the number of unfilled shift figures to a “range of factors” including a policy of centralising regional rostering arrangements, resource constraints, overtime and shift extensions, absenteeism and high levels of fatigue.

While Mr Noonan was critical of the figures, saying “the point is a lot of the shifts are going unnecessarily unfilled” due to a rostering system in “shambles”, they were an improvement on 2011’s figures by almost 200.

AV Gippsland regional manager Mick Stephenson, however, said the figures were inaccurate and had arisen due to a flaw in AV’s rostering system, currently being addressed, which only allowed for “one way feedback”.

He said this meant AV’s centralised rostering area advised local teams when shifts could not be filled, and this was recorded, but if regional managers and team leaders managed to fill those shifts that information often could not be fed back into the system.

“On a month to month basis this could vary from 25 to 66 per cent (of cases),” Mr Stephenson said.

“So we know that on average, more than half of those shifts have been filled.”

He said when volunteer crews and senior operational managers back-filled shifts “to fill those gaps”, those incidents were also not recorded.

“This is burdensome for us but (necessary) in terms of providing coverage for the region.”

An AV working group formed yesterday to commence working towards returning “greater local ownership” to rostering arrangements, Mr Stephenson said.

He agreed the move indicated AV “accepts there are problems” in the current centralised arrangements.

“The centralised system has created consistency and bought all regions into alignment” Mr Stephenson said, but he conceded “we have acknowledged people would like greater flexibility in their rostering and greater local ownership”.

Asked whether future changes could be expected to reduce unfilled shifts significantly, he said “we do anticipate improvement but people need to understand that we run the system based on the staffing we are funded for and if there is a spike in unplanned leave for example, which cannot be predicted, from time to time not every ambulance we normally have on the road, will be”.

Mr Noonan said he had spoken with many paramedics who said they wanted the roster system “handed back to the regional and rural management team”.