Ambulance workers threaten to walk off the job

AMBULANCE officers have threatened to impose their first state-wide strike in response to government plans to get fire brigade officers to do their work.

The proposal will be put to ambulance officers who are members of the Health Services Union next week at a rally outside Parliament House in Sydney.

The newly elected NSW secretary of the Health Services Union, Gerard Hayes, said ambulance officers were now trained at tertiary level and it was irresponsible of the government to get fire fighters to do their job.

He said if the state government plan went ahead and it failed to improve ambulance officer staffing levels, it was ''extremely likely'' industrial action would take place.

''It will probably include walking off the job, which is something that has never occurred within the ambulance service. We take that extremely seriously.

''We do not ever intend to put patients at risk,'' he said.

But ''the reality is the community will suffer'' if fire brigade officers did the job of ambulance officers, he said.

''The potential engagement of the fire brigade is really the last straw in marginalising the services to the community by paramedics,'' Mr Hayes said.

He said the NSW Ambulance Service had failed to replace at least 700 ambulance officers or to significantly increase the workforce since 2002.

The plan to outsource the work of ambulance officers to fire fighters was a consequence of the state government's decision to cut $775 million from the health budget over the next four years, in addition to $2.2 billion in efficiency savings.

A spokesman for the NSW Ambulance Service said the recruitment of fire officers aimed to get first aid to patients more quickly.

''The first responder program will enhance, not replace ambulance services. Importantly, at the time of the triple zero call to NSW Ambulance the closest ambulance paramedic will always be dispatched immediately in a medical emergency,'' he said.

''It will not compromise patient safety and does not replace paramedic treatment. It has been proven that early intervention, especially when a patient is having a cardiac arrest, saves lives.

''Given the spread of fire and rescue officers or rural fire volunteers crews across NSW it makes sense to use these resources to assist when they are not committed to fire suppression activities and where they can make a difference to patient care.''

The first responder program already operates in 48 areas with limited ambulance cover across NSW.

Under the changes, the program would be trialled and extended to the busy metropolitan area.

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