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Free rides as ambos ramp up industrial action

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The South Australian Ambulance Employees Association has launched industrial action against the government, with paramedics overnight not charging patients for ambulance rides if they are ramped outside hospitals.

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The union announced the decision in a letter to members before close of business on Wednesday, saying they do not believe the public should pay for a “substandard” ambulance service.

The initial scope of the industrial action will see patients not billed if their emergency department wait time exceeds their priority status.

“If someone gets a priority one in longer than eight minutes, they won’t get a bill,” AEA Secretary Phil Palmer told reporters yesterday.

“If they get a priority two in longer than 16 minutes, they won’t get a bill, if someone gets a priority three in longer than 30 minutes, they won’t get a bill, and so on.”

The union has not ruled out escalating to a billing strike for all patients if the industrial dispute continues.

The association’s members have also launched a new public safety campaign to highlight the risks of ambulance ramping.

The state government has repeatedly said the problem is more complex than increased resources alone, and has pointed to overall system problems related to patient flow and emergency department capacity.

The government is also seeking reforms to rostering and meal break arrangements, with paramedics currently driving back to their home station to take breaks rather than the nearest hospital.

“We are committed to looking at what reform and resources the ambulance service needs,” Health Minister Stephen Wade told reporters on Wednesday.

“[But] we are not going to run our health system based on industrial ultimatums issued by union officers.”

The health minister added that, “we’ve all got a responsibility to deliver the best possible patient care” and encouraged the union to come to the bargaining table.

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