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Paramedics warn of bad times ahead

Maclean paramedics say that Ambulance NSW is short-changing the community with its management of the station’s roster. Meanwhile, the helipad at Maclean District Hospital is unable to accommodate the new, larger rescue helicopters, seen here attending a patient on the sports field below the helipad. However, under ‘normal’ circumstances, paramedics transport patients 9.5 kilometres to the Palmers Island aerodrome to meet the rescue helicopter. Image: Contributed
Geoff Helisma Paramedics working out of the Maclean ambulance station are unable to properly do their jobs, putting lives at risk, says the NSW branch of the Australian Paramedics Association (ASA). The heart of the matter, says local ASA delegate Mark Young, is “the failure of NSW Ambulance to solve a dispute over new rosters, [which] has had a worrying impact on ambulance response times in Maclean”. “At least five critical 000 calls have been forced to wait too long for treatment over recent months because of the lack of local ambulance resources,” he said. “These included emergency calls where patients were suffering cardiac arrest and had collapsed and were not breathing. “This is having an unacceptable impact on response times and we are concerned that with 20,000 holiday-makers about to arrive in the region, there is the risk of further tragedy because NSW Ambulance is not able to respond.” There are several factors affecting the ability of Maclean paramedics to respond efficiently, according to the ASA. Primarily, a roster change implemented earlier this year resulted in seven additional staff at the station, however, the rosters changes also resulted in the implementation of “a dedicated night shift instead of using local paramedics ‘on-call’, just to save money”. “The nightshift ambulance is then called on to do long cases out of town, leaving Maclean empty of paramedics,” APA (NSW) secretary, Steve Pierce, says in the media release. “The effect of the roster change means, while there are now 12 paramedics at Maclean, there are only two paramedics working on day shift and no on-call paramedics to call upon when [the] workload spikes. “Changes to the roster need to be made that better reflect the safety needs of the community.” Mr Young said, “Front line service delivery to the public is suffering as a result.” Over recent times, Mr Young said there have been occasions when ambulances have been called in from Evans Head, Grafton, Yamba, Lismore and Ballina to respond to Maclean area emergencies while the Maclean ambulance was out of town transporting patients from Maclean hospital or local surgeries to John Flynn Hospital on the Gold Coast or to Lismore hospital, for example. “Last week a Maclean car was taking a patient to Lismore and a helicopter was landing in Maclean, but a Grafton ambulance had to be drawn upon to meet the patient and doctor,” Mr Young said. Meanwhile, helicopters are unable to land at the dedicated Maclean hospital helipad, due to an increase in the size of the helicopters. As a result, the official landing pad is now at the aerodrome on Palmers Island, where there have “been two incidents of ambulances getting bogged, again giving rise to an unnecessary delay for patients”.