PARAMEDICS at Newcastle's largest ambulance station have again raised the alarm on chronic understaffing after Hamilton station was left with a single crew overnight last week, a development the union labelled "dangerously inadequate" and showed "contempt for hard-working paramedics".
The Newcastle Herald reported in February that blown-out response times in the Hunter were becoming routine practice and were the result of a "systemic problem" across the state, with NSW Ambulance failing to respond to even the highest-priority cases within appropriate clinical time frames.
The case of an elderly man who had to wait six hours with a broken hip for an ambulance crew to take him to hospital highlighted the issue of chronic under-staffing in the Hunter, with the state's paramedics union backing calls for more paramedics in the region. However, it appears not much has changed, with paramedics at Hamilton on Thursday reporting "dangerously low" staffing levels at the station, which the Australian Paramedics Association (APA) said was operating at 57 per cent as paramedics were sent to cover other areas of the Hunter.
"Hamilton station was already short staffed when crews arrived to start their shifts on Thursday night," APA (NSW) President Chris Kastelan said. "Those who signed on were then all deployed to other stations, with the exception of one crew left to cover the entire area and population served by Hamilton station. "For the 12 hours from 7pm to 7am, that means the Newcastle CBD and surrounds were being covered by a single paramedic crew. It doesn't take an expert to recognise this level of coverage is dangerously inadequate."
Mr Kastelan said Hunter paramedics, while shocked by last week's failure of resourcing, have also been reporting that such instances are becoming worryingly frequent in the region.
"Despite NSW Ambulance pouring extra funding into recent workforce enhancements, communities are yet to see improved coverage on the ground-and in many places, we are slipping backwards," he said. "Response times in NSW fall far behind the standards being set elsewhere in Australia, and with this level of coverage, it's not hard to see why that's the case." Paramedics are currently involved in ongoing industrial action, refusing to bill patients to draw attention to the ongoing staffing shortages.
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