Cuts compromising care: paramedic

SAM Peters*  says Tasmanian paramedics have been hit hard and patient care compromised by chronic staff shortages, scarce resources and constant ramping at hospital emergency departments.

The Northern Tasmanian intensive care flight paramedic has been in the industry for more than 30 years, and says he has ‘‘never seen it so bad’’.

Mr Peters is one of about 300 paramedics to have their pay hit twice this year through the state government’s wage pause, and its appeal against a 14.1 per cent pay rise awarded by the Industrial Commission.

Mr Peters, who spoke with North-West intensive care paramedics Gavin McGuire* and Michael Richards* at a Launceston budget protest yesterday, said morale had never been so low.

Mr McGuire said paramedics were already under great strain as they tried to treat patients to the best standard, and he feared Tasmanian Health Organisation and Department of Health and Human Services savings outlined in the budget would only make things worse.

‘‘The cuts that they make to THOs are going to affect us and the public, because we’re going to be ramped longer, which means we’re not going to have ambulances go out to sick people,’’ Mr McGuire said.

Mr Peters said ramping was a regular occurrence at the Launceston General Hospital, with ambulances sometimes waiting with patients for as long as four hours.

He said crews were ramped at Hobart this week for as long as nine hours.

‘‘Because we try to keep things flowing, as a crew comes in we end up taking over two, three, four patients per two staff, so that we can actually get ambulance crews out onto the road,’’ Mr Peters said.

Mr Richards said ramping meant they sometimes had to send a crew to a call-out from much further away.

Occasionally, he said, no crew was sent.

Mr McGuire acknowledged that funding to Ambulance Tasmania would increase this year and over forward estimates, but said he didn’t think it was sufficient given constant overtime and increasing demand.

Mr Peters said two paramedics from Launceston had been sent to cover a shift in Devonport on Wednesday night but even that wasn’t enough, with the North-West still down one person.

‘‘And they’re a crew down today, and they’re at least a crew short overnight on the North-West Coast,’’ Mr McGuire added.

Mr Peters said paramedics had to take protected industrial action so they could wear their uniforms to the protest yesterday without being disciplined.

He said they were upset they were taking two pay hits when working under such strain.

‘‘The wage freeze for us is not just a 2per cent point in time, it’s going to continue on over, and over, and over,’’ Mr Peters said.

‘‘We increment every year, so for instance I’m a year3 or 4, and when I come into the fifth year I won’t get a pay increase and that will be delayed for time to come,’’ Mr McGuire added.

A state government spokesman said the Liberals were spending a record $5.8billion on health over the forward estimates.

‘‘We are cutting the backline to reinvest in the frontline and we are looking at the issue of ramping, which is a long-standing problem we inherited from Labor and the Greens,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘That’s why, as part of our health reform, the Liberal government is supporting the use of clinical redesign to improve patient flow.’’

*Names have been changed at the paramedics’ request.

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