Overworked paramedics taking ambulances home make desperate plea to the public

Angie RaphaelNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Paramedics across Australia are feeling added pressure during the Omicron wave, working ridiculously long hours and even taking ambulances home to respond to emergencies when they are on-call.

NSW appeared to be the worst hit, with the Australian Paramedics Association saying staff were “doing it really tough” and were “burnt out completely” after a punishing two years responding to fires, floods and Covid-19.

“We have had our workload explode and had to learn dozens of updated protocols,” a spokesperson told NCA NewsWire.

“We’re facing statewide staffing shortfalls at the same time as record-breaking triple-zero call volume.

“The service is struggling to fill rosters, and we’ve even seen unprecedented measures like asking metro staff to take an ambulance home and be on-call after their shift.”

Camera IconCovid-19 has heaped pressure on paramedics. NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

A NSW Ambulance spokesperson confirmed the agency was experiencing staffing challenges linked to the pandemic, with some workers on furlough and sick leave.

“As we continue to respond to the surge in cases associated with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, opportunities for on-call rostering have been offered to staff in metropolitan areas who have expressed an interest and are willing to assist,” they said.

“On-call has been offered in line with the NSW Ambulance fatigue policy, to ensure staff are provided the opportunity to rest and recover, before and at the conclusion of their shift.”

The more than 6000 staff at NSW Ambulance are facing unprecedented demand, peaking on January 1 when 5120 emergency calls were received.

Paramedics have been complaining for years that their service is under-resourced and Covid-19 has further heightened the situation.

The APA spokesperson said paramedics were working hours of forced overtime and missing two in every three meal breaks well before the pandemic started.

“NSW has far fewer paramedics per capita than comparable states, and we need 1500 new staff urgently just to fill that gap,” they said.

“It’s not uncommon for staff to be doing shifts of 15 hours without a break, and with Covid protocols in place we’re doing that in full PPE and summer heat.

“Paramedics in other states are facing similar pressures and there’s a real crisis of faith in our ambulance leadership nationwide.

“We’ve had two years to prepare for the current wave, but our leadership teams seem to have been caught completely off guard.”

Camera IconSome staff have been taking ambulances home. NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty Credit: News Corp Australia

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill told NCA NewsWire paramedics would only take their work vehicles home in remote areas where branches had an on-call roster.

“This would never happen in a metropolitan setting or in major regional centres, and the VAU would not support it if it was proposed,” he said.

“Crews are working beyond their limit and they need their time off between shifts.”

There has recently been a very high demand for emergency care in Victoria — and it is expected to continue for weeks.

“The global Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a significant and unprecedented impact on health systems, including Ambulance Victoria and hospital emergency departments,” an Ambulance Victoria spokesman said.

“Our Ambulance Victoria and partner agency staff are working extremely hard to manage the increasing demand while prioritising care to the sickest Victorians.

“We are asking all community members to help us by saving triple-zero for emergencies.”

Over the past few weeks, paramedics in Victoria have been responding to about 1850 emergency calls every day.

About one-in-five calls to triple-zero for an ambulance did not require one to be dispatched.

Paramedics in NSW and other states have also expressed concern that people are making unnecessary emergency calls.

Camera IconIt is an issue across the country, with paramedics urging people to save their triple-zero calls for real emergencies. NCA NewsWire/Brenton Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Hill said Omicron was placing a “crushing demand” on the health system.

“Every shift, the amount of calls coming through to triple-zero is the equivalent of a busy new year’s eve,” he said.

“A lot of those calls are not medical emergencies but they tie up crews and call takers, so they are unable to respond to the real emergencies that come through.

“The hospitals are also under enormous strain and that leads to crews being ramped at busy emergency departments.

“Everyone is doing their best but the demand is more than the system can cope with.”

Mr Hill said morale among paramedics was the worst it had been in a long time.

“The ambulance workforce has really never been under the strain it is under today,” he said.

“We are relying on them to work miracles but they can only do one case at a time. For every case a crew attends, there are more cases waiting.

“They work without meals, without breaks and a lot of overtime at the end of shift.

“When they get their days off they are emotionally and physically exhausted, yet they are requested to come back into work overtime shifts.”

Originally published as Overworked paramedics taking ambulances home make desperate plea to the public

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails