Union Cries Foul as Independent Review says NT St John Ambulance ‘Functions Well’

The paramedics’ union has criticised an independent report which found the NT St John Ambulance service to be satisfactory, pointing to examples of staff vomiting from exhaustion and delayed responses to emergency calls because of overtime concerns.

United Voice branch secretary Erina Early said workers were being pushed to their limits in an understaffed service.

“Paramedics are exhausted. They’re fatigued. They’re not getting breaks,” Ms Early said.

“They’re working 12, 14, 16 hours.

“We had a paramedic the other month pull over on the side of Mitchell Street and vomit outside of the ambulance because of the fatigue.”

Ms Early’s criticism comes after the Government commissioned an independent report into the St John service.

The NT Road Ambulance Service Scoping Review found that overall the system was satisfactory.

The St John Ambulance NT depot in the Darwin suburb of Casuarina.

It said the service performed well and changes have been made to improve the way St John is paid to ensure it meets key performance indicators.

Report author Professor Neale Fong said St John provided “a very good service”.

“In the Northern Territory, the road ambulance service — which includes emergency response and patient transport, call taking, triage, dispatch and retrieval — overall functions well.”

He did note, however, overtime and fatigue management had been an issue and there was room for improvement.

“Many ambulance officers are working some form of overtime during their off days,” he said.

“This is a major concerns from a workplace health and safety perspective and puts [St John] at risk of OHS issues and poor patient outcomes resulting from staff fatigue.”

Professor Fong also noted there was a “reported level of high workplace stress” and more could be done to support staff.

“There is a need to make improvements internally and in the Health Department itself to make [St John Ambulance] a better service,” Professor Fong said.

Outsourcing blamed for problems

The Northern Territory and Western Australia’s ambulance service is privately outsourced to St John.

A St John ambulance and NT Fire and Rescue truck.

Ambulance services elsewhere in Australia are government-run.

Ms Early said because the NT’s contract was outsourced, it was being run like a business.

She called on the NT Government to take over the service.

“Code ones are being held over to save on overtime costs,” Ms Early said.

“The current service isn’t resourced enough. We’re of the view if it was run by government it would have those resources.”

The report did not recommend bringing the management of road ambulance services under the NT Department of Health.

“In my own view, there was not an argument made that that would make a huge difference and a significant difference by bringing it into the Department of Health,” Professor Fong said.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the NT Government would discuss the report in 2018.

“The report made 77 findings and 44 recommendations,” she said.

“The Health Department will now work on that and I will take it to my Cabinet colleagues early next year.”

St John Ambulance said it was continuing to work with the NT Government to meet growing demands.

A spokesman said St John had addressed concerns about workplace culture.

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