Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

'Years in the making and we are frustrated': Paramedics condemn ESA leadership

Union delegates Jim Arneman and Darren Neville. Picture by Hannah Neale

After months of negotiations, overworked and frustrated ACT Ambulance workers have condemned the leadership of the Emergency Services Agency boss.

In an unprecedented move, around 70 ambulance staff unanimously voted to show no confidence in Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan on Thursday.

Ms Whelan told The Canberra Times that while she respected the opinion of ambulance personnel, she "stood by the work that I've either facilitated myself or supported my chief officers in delivering over the last three years".

Gathered at Dickson Ambulance Station, the Transport Workers Union called for reintegration of communications and operations support into the ambulance service and away from a centralised agency. They said these "failed reforms", put in place in 2018 to reduce role duplication, were impacting safety.

High on the list of priorities is the establishment of a new roster, eradicating back-to-back 14-hour night shifts. Shifts often run overtime extending to 16 to17 hours.

Some members recalled almost falling asleep behind the wheel when driving home from work.

Union delegate Jim Arneman started working as a paramedic 37 years ago. He says paramedics and ambulance staff are currently under "extreme strain".

"Our biggest problem at the moment is our night shifts. We're meant to have a minimum of 11 crews on a night shift to cover the whole of the territory but we've had situations in the last few months where we've been down to six, sometimes less," he said.

"This is years in the making and members are frustrated to the point where they want to take action."

ESA commissioner Georgeina Whelan. Picture by Elesa Kurtz

The commissioner intends to begin the staggered introduction of a new roster to eliminate 14-hour shifts in July next year.

Despite calls to make changes immediately, Ms Whelan claims she is not stalling and "reforms of this magnitude" take time.

"I won't apologise for trying to get it right, and get it right for hardworking paramedics, so I can actually deliver on the commitment. Words are cheap, but delivering a roster that is realised, and that benefits them requires time and it requires commitment," Ms Whelan said.

A new roster will require additional paramedics over and above current ACT government commitments. The ACT budget for 2022-23 allocated funding to employ 30 new staff.

Paramedics are seeking an additional 80 to 100 staff, as burnout results in a high turnover rate.

It comes as union members use ambulance vehicles to call for additional support. Colourful messages scrawled on vehicles include "Canberra you deserve better" and "we are not triple okay".

The commissioner defended reforms to centralise emergency services response but conceded there were "areas for improvement".

"There has been no risk to the safety of our community based on that reform. Change is difficult bbut there's no evidence that it has undermined [the service]," Ms Whelan said.

"This is an emotional issue and I take it very seriously. I recognise [ambulance staff] have come through the worst of COVID. They are tired, and they do need change and I will continue to work as hard as I can."

Emergency Services minister Mick Gentleman said that since the government was elected in 2020, more than $50 million of funding had been provided to the Ambulance Service, expected to result in more than 70 new paramedics.

"The safety and wellbeing of our paramedics and the Canberra community is our highest priority. Reforms to modernise the ambulance service recognise the support required to maintain a nation leading ambulance service," he said.

"Serving in the ACT Ambulance Service is a very difficult job and I want to acknowledge this and thank our paramedics for their incredible work, particularly over the past two years of the pandemic."

Top stories on inkl right now
Related Stories
ACT paramedics and Transport Workers' Union call for better working conditions, rostering and support from Emergency Services Agency
Paramedics in the ACT are calling for more support from the Emergency Services Agency and rostering that doesn't see back-to-back 14-hour night shifts.
From analysis to the latest developments in health, read the most diverse news in one place.
'Increasingly untenable': Frustrated nurses and midwives lash out at govt
A major review into culture reform is expected to be released imminently.
NSW nurses and midwives walk off job for fourth time, call for patient-to-staff ratios
Thousands of nurses across NSW are striking for 24 hours over what they say is a "staffing crisis" in the state's hospitals.
NHS workers lay crisis bare as strikes loom - debts, 12-hour days and eyeing up Tesco jobs
As nurse strikes loom next month and unions rally support for further NHS walkouts, the Mirror has spoken to four workers about their reasons for getting involved
Nursing strike dates revealed - what we know as thousands of staff to walk out
Here's what we know so far
One place to find news on any topic, from hundreds of sites.
Ambulance service in England ‘in meltdown’ as one in four 999 calls missed in October
NHS heads warn patients dying every day as A&E logjams cause 169,000 hours of crew delays in worst-ever month