Illawarra paramedics are sitting idle on the job because there aren’t enough ambulances to go around, in “ludicrous” arrangements exposed by their union.
The problem has arisen 10 times in the past month at Oak Flats station. In the most severe case, a crew was without an ambulance for two hours and 45 minutes.
The Australian Paramedics Association (APA) says the shortage became a problem in March, when 11 new paramedics were installed at Oak Flats station and there was no corresponding increase in ambulance vehicles.
Glenn Congram, vice-president of the APA (NSW) said the station should have received another two or three ambulances. Instead, a relief vehicle – in the past used to replace ambulances taken off the road for repairs, servicing or re-fitting – had been brought into permanent use, he said.
“It’s ludicrous that extra staff have been hired … but no consideration has been given to providing the vital equipment needed to do their job – leading to an extremely problematic vehicle shortage,” he said. “There is a risk of being caught short, providing an under-par service and this is an unacceptable risk for patients.”
Night shift paramedics may be midway through a job when they are meant to hand over their vehicle to incoming crew. With jobs sometimes non-stop, and vehicles requiring cleaning, restocking and mandatory checks between users, it was not always possible for outgoing and incoming crew to align, Mr Congram said.
"They [incoming crew] mess around at the station, doing things, but basically they need to wait for the night shift or on call people to be able to get back to the station to sign off before they can get a vehicle,” he said.
“It means that some of the [night shift paramedics] will be banked up and their hours will be extended to cover the shortfall.”
“It’s a glaring problem at Oak flats, but it can crop up anywhere in the area, from Helensburgh to Ulladulla.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for NSW Ambulance said the number of paramedics at Oak Flats station had almost doubled in March.
“We are currently in the process of procuring additional vehicles,” she said.
“There are fully equipped ambulance vehicles available for paramedics. We would like to reassure the community that paramedics at Oak Flats are fully equipped and operational and the closest available paramedic always responds to the closest medical emergency.
“NSWA regularly moves fleet within geographic areas to facilitate servicing and repairs.
“A plan is in place to expedite the current production schedule as part of a $56 million ambulance replacement program over six years.”