Ambulance Officers On Strike Alert

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday February 24, 2001

Geesche Jacobsen

A proposed trial of roster changes for ambulance officers designed to improve response times appears doomed as the union considers industrial action over staff shortages.

This follows reports earlier this week that response times have worsened despite an 81 per cent budget increase over the past five years.

The Heath and Research Employees' Association, which represents ambulance staff, says the service needs 155 extra officers, just to cover time-off for holidays, sick leave and training. More are needed to match the increased demand and to allow for natural attrition, it says.

``We are about 40 per cent down on our workforce," said the assistant State Secretary, Mr Craig Thomson.

But the Ambulance Service says it has only 65 vacancies, while 50 officers are undergoing training and 17 patient transport officers have been employed for non-emergency transports.

Mr Thomson said it was unclear where the extra money had gone, though much could have been used to pay existing staff to work overtime to fill the shortfalls.

``The real cause in the blow-out of response times is that we don't have enough staff," he said.

He said a patient in Barradine in northern NSW had died last week after suffering a cardiac arrest when the single ambulance officer had to wait 27 minutes for back-up.

The Ambulance Service employs 2,592 equivalent full-time staff in NSW, according to its figures, which differ from the union's claim that 1,988 frontline staff are employed in metropolitan Sydney and rural NSW..

The service, which has recruited a British ambulance officer to improve work practices and response times, is negotiating with the union about a trial of changed rosters to have more officers on duty at busy times. Both parties are to report back to the Industrial Relations Commission about progress next week.

© 2001 Sydney Morning Herald

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