THE Hunter arm of NSW Ambulance has plunged further into turmoil with three more senior managers stood down from duty, taking the total to seven in less than five months.
In a dramatic escalation of the fallout from a series of wide-ranging investigations, two male managers and a female administrative senior staffer have been removed from duty this month.
The crisis - the biggest ever seen in the region - shows no signs of ending, as NSW Ambulance presses ahead with a complete review of the service across the Hunter that is being conducted by independent investigators.
Some of the complaints date back years and at least two have been previously investigated by police.
It's understood investigators are trawling through emails and have interviewed dozens of staff.
Employment histories have been reviewed, overtime rosters scrutinised, financials examined, work relationships put under the spotlight, previous investigations pulled apart and sick leave and workers' compensation claims probed.
Insiders told the Newcastle Herald that NSW Ambulance was "clearing the deck" after years of neglect in the Hunter and "nothing was off the table".
Others described the massive upheaval, that has claimed seven of the region's most senior staff, as a desperate attempt by the service to protect itself against "further reputational damage" after a series of "terrible organisational failings".
"There is some concern that individuals are being targeted for things the service should have managed a lot better," a paramedic said.
"We can only hope that this isn't just an attempt to blame staff for organisational failings. In saying that, everyone agrees that action in the Hunter was long overdue and some of the problems should never have happened."
Deputy Director of Clinical Operations Inspector Jordan Emery, who was appointed northern NSW boss earlier this year, announced in May that he planned to review how the organisation ran and addressed "workplace grievances".
"There's been a lot of hurt amongst the team here, we've seen paramedic suicide - Anthony Jenkins' death is one example - we know that there's been concerns raised by staff about bullying and harassment, about not being heard, about not being able to contribute positively to the organisation - that's what I want to disrupt, that's what I want to turn around," he said.
For months NSW Ambulance has refused to be drawn on the crisis, a spokeswoman repeatedly saying it "does not comment on the working arrangements of individual employees".
It's understood the investigations are being coordinated from NSW Ambulance headquarters in Sydney. One of the men stood down this month no longer works in the Hunter, but is facing allegations from his time here.
Insiders told the Newcastle Herald no official announcements had been made about the latest round of disciplinary action and speculation was rife.
"The rumour mill has been in full force for months and now it's in overdrive," a paramedic said.
"There are some managers looking over their shoulder wondering who will be next."
First to go was husband and wife Kerry and Robert Akester, who resigned in May after initially being removed from duty.
The Akesters were second in charge, behind Inspector Emery, and managed NSW Ambulance Hunter Zone 1 and Zone 2.
Last month, inspectors Mick O'Connor and Brian Knowles, who both worked as duty operations managers from Hamilton station, were stood down.
A paramedic said part of the fallout from the crisis was that human resources training had increased.
It's understood the investigations centre around complaints made by numerous staff over many years, some that workers claim were "simply ignored" or "put in the too hard basket".
One of the investigations is into the service's treatment of paramedic Tony Jenkins who took his own life in April 2018. Mr Jenkins was left to drive home alone following NSW Ambulance accusations of illicit opioid use.
The state's workplace health and safety regulator is taking legal action in criminal court against NSW Ambulance over the suicide.
The Australian Paramedics Association NSW state president Chris Kastelan confirmed members had reported cultural problems in the Hunter for years.
He said the association had faith that the investigations were being conducted appropriately, but was concerned about staffing levels in the region.
"It's very concerning, the community should be very upset that NSW Ambulance is unable to man multiple stations in the Newcastle area regularly," he said.
"Hamilton station has been running one of three cars out of the centre of the city during a Friday night, with paramedic crews from Hamilton being deployed to other stations within the Newcastle area."
The union said despite a recent injection of extra paramedics across NSW, Hunter rosters were not being filled, which was leaving the community at risk.
A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman confirmed Hunter Zone 1 - which incorporates Hamilton Station - normally deploys 11 crews, however on Friday, October 16, it was one paramedic short due to sick leave.
She said attempts were made to provide an additional officer.
"Following a rapid review, NSW Ambulance can confirm Hunter Zone 1 was fully staffed for the two proceeding Friday nights," she said.
"As at October 14, regional areas in NSW have benefited from an additional 375 paramedic enhancements at 43 locations."
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