RIVERLAND lives are “absolutely at stake” due to ambulance wait times, according to a local paramedic.
The revelation comes as the Ambulance Employees Association is in mediation with the State Government over industrial disputes, with the union blaming a shortage of crews for two metropolitan deaths earlier this month.
Ambulance Employees Association’s state councillor and Loxton-based paramedic Craig Todd said the current roster system for Riverland paramedics is putting lives at risk, with some patients waiting over 30 minutes for assistance in serious emergency situations.
“We have an ambulance in each Riverland town and the ambulance in Loxton and Barmera are on-call paramedics, so that means we work 24 hours a day for four days, so 96 hours straight,” he said.
“During the day we are at the station and then at night time we both take an ambulance each and respond at home for emergencies.”
Mr Todd said the ambulance service acknowledges that the roster is “fatiguing” and “not sustainable”.
“What they do is the next best thing and use Loxton and Barmera for any ‘priority one’ and ‘priority two’ events and Berri or Renmark come over to cover the other categories,” he said.
“What happens then… if a job comes up in Berri or Renmark, there is quite an extended wait time for them to come back as they are in Loxton doing our work because they are trying to protect the on-call crew.
“Absolutely lives are at stake with these wait times.”
Mr Todd said it was a “complex and multi-faceted” issue impacting the whole region.
“Barmera goes to Waikerie a lot, as (Waikerie) are off to Blanchetown and Morgan. and we are getting pulled more into that area because while the volunteers do a great job, there’s just not enough of them to cover their roster,” he said.
“When Morgan can’t cover their roster, they’ll send Waikerie to do the case. When that happens they send an ambulance from this end of the river – whether it’s Barmera, Renmark, Berri or us (Loxton) – to Waikerie to cover, as it’s a long way to go if something happens there.
“As soon as you have a little hole in the volunteer sector, that affects the coverage for the rest of the region.”
Mr Todd said it was “easy” to overwhelm the Riverland’s ambulance service.
“One car, having a crash with five people, can wipe out every ambulance we have in the Riverland,” he said.
“It has happened before where we’ve been at an emergency of a vehicle accident and another vehicle accident has come in.
“We might get the MFS or SES to drive for us and we will work by ourselves (but) working by yourself as a paramedic has its inherent challenges as well.”
Mr Todd said the current on-call roster for Loxton and Barmera was “not hugely attractive” for recruiting staff.
“The younger generation paramedics are very much (about) work-life balance,” he said.
“They don’t mind working hard, but they want their time off as well to recuperate from it and that is completely understandable.
“You have to be able to handle the on-call roster and you have to have that mindset of coping with that.
“If you want to go out, you know you have to go out with your uniform on and ambulance with you.”
Mr Todd said he would like to see a new roster system put forward.
Member for Chaffey Tim Whetstone acknowledged the current roster system “might need some tweaking”.
“We don’t want to see a roster system in the regions that mirrors what is happening in metro Adelaide,” he said.
“I’m in discussions with the health minister on ways we can fine tune the roster system.”
Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton said the health needs of regional South Australians were “consistently disregarded” by the current government.
“The lack of resources is affecting ambulance staff and patients in the Riverland every day,” he said.
“These ambulance staff are telling us they are burnt out and not supported by the government.
“The Liberals were elected saying they would invest in regional health services, but every day people are finding out that promise has been completely broken.”
Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade was unable to provide a comment to the Murray Pioneer by the time of print.