Fatigued paramedics face 12-hour back-to-back shifts
CLARENCE Valley paramedics are forced to work back-to-back 12-hour shifts, as a dated fatigue policy does little to protect their health and wellbeing.
Australian Paramedics Association spokesman Wayne Flint said local ambulance crews regularly worked a 12-hour shift at the station, before travelling home to be on-call overnight before returning to work the next day.
"Fatigue is an issue for our workers, particularly in regional areas," Mr Flint said. "Due to bed block at major hospitals on the North Coast, most paramedics have worked more like 14-hour shifts before finishing.
"They go home and then are on call until their next shift in the morning. Across the regional areas we have paramedics who are fatigued after finishing a shift, and then often start fatigued." Mr Flint said despite paramedics often being at a call-out job until 2am, they were still required to attend their shift the next morning.
Time off is hard to secure due to a fatigue policy the union claims is dated, outmoded and completely inadequate.
"A new policy has been in the works for more than two years now but we have seen nothing of it," Mr Flint said.
"The (current) policy is not protecting our ambulance personnel."
A Clarence Valley paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, said for ambulance crews it was often a case of being fuelled by only caffeine.
"In this role , we are professional and we have an acute want to serve the community," he said.
"It is a real balancing act, trying to do the best we can with the little staff we have. A lot of the time our fatigue levels and our stresses come second to supporting the community.
"It impacts on your driving, on your professionalism and it impacts on your health. "
The small number of staff at satellite and non-24 hour ambulance stations are stretched thin with major hospital transfers restricting the number of crews on the roads in what the paramedic described as a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" system.
"If we have say, a patient in acute mental Heath crisis at Grafton hospital who comes in overnight, it is sometimes at best the next day that they are getting transferred to a Richmond clinic for further care," he said.
"Once the paramedic crew have that patient on the stretcher they are unable to respond to other emergency pre-hospital cases.
"To fill the gap left at that station's area, outer stations such as Woolgoolga, Yamba or Maclean will be dispatched to fill the gap, leaving a gap from the area they have left."
He said it was common for paramedic crews to go days without any type of crib breaks due to high workload.
"Every job is tiring," the paramedic admitted. "But there are acceptable levels of fatigue, so mistakes or accidents at work don't happen. That is what we are trying to avoid."