State Secretary of the Ambulance Employees’ Association (AEA) Phil Palmer told InDaily ambulance crews were becoming increasingly unavailable to respond to new emergencies because resources were not keeping pace with booming demand.
Palmer said the situation was putting ambulance workers and the public at risk.
He said the union was considering industrial action options including banning overtime and refusing to file paperwork that allows SA Health to bill patients for the ambulance service.
But he said paramedics would not put patients at risk by going on strike.
“Workloads are increasing, at an increasing rate, [and] resources aren’t keeping up,” said Palmer.
Palmer said that under SA Ambulance policy targets, the state’s ambulance crews should be “utilised” 55 per cent of the time or less, to ensure enough ambulances were available for emergency call-outs.
But SA Ambulance daily average data covering the 12 months to March 2016, provided to InDaily, shows almost two-thirds of metropolitan ambulance crews were utilised for 55 per cent of their time or more, most days of the week.
“Even by their own measure [55 per cent utilisation] it paints a pretty grim picture [and] it’s getting worse,” said Palmer.
“Lives could be at risk because ambulances won’t be available,” said Palmer.
According to the new figures, ambulance crews servicing Adelaide’s metropolitan west were the most over-utilised – some more than 70 per cent utilised most days – with crews servicing Adelaide’s metropolitan south the most available.
Just under half of the ambulance crews servicing the south were over-utilised, according to the data.
However, SA Ambulance Service Chief Executive Officer Jason Killens told InDaily utilisation rates, averaged out over the year, were just above SA Ambulance targets.
“Our utilisation rate reflects the time that our paramedics spend getting to and caring for our patients,” said Killens.
“Year to date we have achieved a 55.9 per cent rate, slightly above our target of 55 per cent.”
“The demand on our service can fluctuate throughout the year and we will continue to work closely with the Ambulance Employees Association to look at ways of managing this increase.”
The graph below shows average ambulance utilisation rates trending upwards over the past year.
Palmer said paramedics were having to increasingly delay meal breaks and work overtime in order to meet demand.
He said if SA Health did not agree to bring more than $10 million worth of increased funding promised by the State Government as part of its Transforming Health program forward from 2017, the union would hold stop work meetings.
The State Government has committed $15 million for 12 new ambulances and 70 new paramedics as part of Transforming Health.
The construction of an upgraded Noarlunga ambulance station is underway and two new ambulance stations in Adelaide’s north and west will also be built.
Palmer said the AEA welcomed commitment by the State Government to increase funding to the service to cope with the increased demands associated with Transforming Health, but that demand had already been rising.
“We can’t wait until 2017,” he said.
“We need it now – the workers and the public are at risk.”
The Transforming Health program involves consolidating specialised hospital services, such as emergency surgery, in larger hospitals.
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