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Ambulance Response Times

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Tags: Ambulances, Paramedics, Health

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a really important matter. I asked a question of the Health minister earlier today. I started by saying it is really hard to put into words the incredibly dire state of the ambulance service at the moment - 'catastrophic' or 'crisis' do not actually speak to the human trauma happening every day. People wait for ambulances for too long. In certain instances, as was reported in the Mercury only last month, a man waited seven hours and sadly died at home. It was clarified that an ambulance in the north had been called at 8.30 p.m. but did not arrive until 3 a.m. We do not know the circumstances of the man's death but we do know that was an unjustifiable, unsupportable length of time for a person not to be attended to.

It is not only the experiences of Tasmanians who are waiting when they are desperate for an ambulance to arrive, what has changed profoundly is the everyday lived experience of paramedics. I have had many conversations with ambulance volunteers and paramedics over my time as an MP. I have to record, and I look at you minister and let you know, the real change in the language and the conversations that I am having with paramedics, paramedic graduates and volunteer ambulance workers about the changed circumstances for them at the moment in Tasmania.

One of the very large issues which has changed is the casualisation of much of the paramedic graduate workforce. That has had a terrible cost for the brightest, best and most passionate young people who train to become paramedics. Then, instead of being put onto permanent contracts when they are accepted, after three months they are put on a casual contract. They are being moved around the state like chess pieces on a board to try to plug the hole in the rosters. What we regularly have on Friday and Saturday nights now is rosters not being filled and whole stations unstaffed, especially in the southern region. It is also happening in places across the north, but particularly in southern Tasmania.

On a Friday and Saturday night, particularly in the Huon Valley, New Norfolk and Sorell, nobody is there. No-one turns up. There is a cumulative culture of exhaustion and real inability to deal with the Friday and Saturday night experiences because of the trauma for our paramedic staff and volunteers who have to turn up with increasingly fewer people on the road. There is more pressure on them and more time spent ramping when they know there are people in the community who are on the phone desperately in need and they cannot get to them. That is a terrible burden on them.

What is especially terrible is that because the Government has not put the resourcing into more paramedics and more volunteer support, they do not have any time to process the highly traumatic things they are dealing with every single day on these highly charged Friday and Saturday night shifts. People are cleaning up peoples' body parts from road deaths and then dealing with a child who dies. These are experiences that these people move between. Yes, they are trained to deal with trauma, but they are not trained to deal with that sort of experience without the time to process and understand the emotional impact, to get the support they need and to have the down time.

Fundamentally, what Ambulance Tasmania is missing at the moment is a culture of support for their staff. That means you cannot move people around like chess pieces on a board. When beautiful young graduates, and older graduates, come out of training, they have put their heart and soul into it and are prepared to give their everything to one of the hardest jobs in Tasmania. They get nothing from Ambulance Tasmania in terms of security of employment. They cannot save to buy a house. There is absolutely no security for them on casualised contracts. It is disrespectful to the people who are hardest working, and for everyone else who has to watch their collective fatigue and feel incapable of doing anything.

The Premier and Health minister is capable of doing things, and we can make these changes. It is not impossible. I know there are a lot of burdens on the Budget, but the Greens did this last year in our alternative budget. We prioritised the funding required that the Paramedics Association have asked for in terms of the extra hundreds of paramedics, the extra stations and the extra fleet vehicles.

This can be done in a balanced budget and that is the Government's challenge. They have to do it because at the moment we have excellent graduates disappearing out of the state in droves. It is tragic, but that is what is happening. Fewer experienced people are there for us in our time of need. This is something that the Health minister can fix and we really look forward to hearing some solutions.