Paramedics fatigue danger
LEONGATHA paramedics are some of the most overworked and overtired in the state, according to leaked documents from an Ambulance Victoria study.
The Fatigue Risk Management Plan, commissioned by Ambulance Victoria in 2009, has revealed paramedics in Leongatha were often so tired they may as well have been working with a blood alcohol reading of up to 0.1 during 11 per cent of their shifts.
The report also revealed that between November 2008 and June 2009, a Leongatha paramedic recorded the highest level of fatigue in the state, having worked 100 hours from December 1 until December 7, followed by another 24 hours of continuous work across two different branches on December 8.
South Gippsland paramedic and Ambulance Employees Australia (Victoria) president Gordon Bowman said these situations were not a rarity in 2008, but said the introduction of 10 hour rest breaks last year had helped the situation.
“It can and it does happen, but it is rarer these days,” he said.
“Of course you can’t make the same decisions when you’re fatigued. In fact VicRoads put out a pamphlet in about 2008 that said if you’d driven for 16 hours without a rest you’re the same as being 0.05.
“We used to wave it around and say ‘They’ve got us doing that every second day’.”
According to the leaked documents, rural paramedics working while fatigued were at a high risk of injuring themselves, administering incorrect doses of medication, and having a delayed response to an emergency, resulting in the deterioration and death of a patient.
Stating the industry is “just grossly understaffed”, Mr Bowman believed South Gippsland alone required at least 40 more paramedics to staff stations properly, including 10 at Wonthaggi and Cowes, eight at Korumburra and Foster and two at Leongatha, and another 20 were required from Christmas until Easter to meet demand.
He did, however, acknowledge a large injection of paramedics into the area would not solve the problem of fatigue.
“I can’t just say suddenly put 40 new people in South Gippsland because we can’t cope with that many students arriving to be able to train them,” Mr Bowman said.
“You can probably throw one into some branches, two into a couple of the bigger branches. You might only be able to train six to eight people a year, so you’re looking at five years to get 40, and in those five years you might have had 10 people leave. It can’t be done overnight; it’s not that simplistic and that would apply right across Victoria.”
AEA state secretary Steve McGhie agreed the region was understaffed.
“The South Gippsland area is the most under-resourced area in the state and 40 paramedics would not be far off the mark of what they really require,” he said, adding additional staff would help “in some small way”.
“I think what we really need to have a look at is to provide some additional ambulance paramedics at a range of branches in the Gippsland region and across the state, to be able to alter the rosters and change the configuration to reduce the periods of work, long shifts and even excessive overtime.”
Mr McGhie, who described the report as “quite damning”, said despite recommendations to Ambulance Victoria in the report to change rosters and improve fatigue management within six months, he didn’t believe it had occurred.
“They’ve known about the contents in this report for the last two-and-a-half years and I don’t think a lot has been done to rectify the fatigue issues in the industry, apart from the introduction of 10 hours rest breaks, and that was imposed upon them as an outcome of our 2009 enterprise agreement,” he said.
Ambulance Victoria acting regional manager Gippsland, Mick Stephenson, denied Mr McGhie’s claim.
“Based on this report, Ambulance Victoria commenced a number of initiatives to address the issue,” he said.
“In Gippsland specifically we identified that paramedics were either requesting or agreeing to large amounts of overtime which was adding to their fatigue. Over the past year, we have added more staff to the area to reduce the need for overtime and have also improved our rostering to minimise the fatigue risk.”
Mr Stephenson said stations that were identified in the review process have progressively moved to new or changed rosters, as well as the 10 hour rest breaks between all shifts.
“We have implemented rostering guidelines which assess numerous factors including predictable shift patterns, length of shift and number of days off when implementing new or changed rosters,” he said.
“We have increased the pool of staff to be able to fill short term vacancies and this reduces the reliance on overtime.”
Mr Stephenson said stations at Grantville and Cowes had changed from on-call to 24/7 rosters, and Korumburra would also move to 24/7 roster coverage once a new facility has been built.
“By moving to improved shift patterns, staff can better plan to avoid fatigue risk factors,” Mr Stephenson said.
“The welfare of our staff is paramount and we recognise the seriousness of the issue of fatigue.”
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