First aid to plug skills shortage in holidays

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Geoff VivianMidwest Times

St John Ambulance ‘voluntourist’ Bernard Caunce near Carnarvon earlier this summer.
St John Ambulance ‘voluntourist’ Bernard Caunce near Carnarvon earlier this summer.

As the population swells at holiday destinations in the Gascoyne and Mid West, so do the number of call-outs to St John Ambulance for accidents and medical emergencies.

At these times St John relies heavily on what they call “voluntourists” — ambulance officers who volunteer to travel and work in locations throughout WA to meet the extra demand.

St John’s regional manager Kevin Blake said all volunteer ambulance officers had the opportunity to be voluntourists.

“The sub centre will assist you with costs to go to that location,” he said.

“We get volunteers into places like port Gregory, Kalbarri, Carnarvon and Exmouth and they certainly help cover our rosters during those busy times.

“Some of those places have up to 5000 extra people in them.”

At 52, Bernard Caunce is a former professional ambulance officer who now works as a part-time carer for a family member in Perth’s southern suburbs.

Although he is on a low income, he said he enjoys taking many working holidays each year with no out-of-pocket expenses.

“Because of declining volunteer populations in all different industries I go up to help them out in their peak times,” he said.

Mr Caunce said so far this year, he had been to Kununurra, Carnarvon, Kalbarri, Bullsbrook, Hopetoun, Cunderdin, Capel, Denmark and Hopetoun.

“I sometimes plan ahead a couple of months to go to certain locations, and at other times they give us a call to say: ‘Are you able to help out in a week or so?’ ” he said.

“In the South West and Great Southern over the summer months that is their peak season, around Kalbarri the peak time is the wildflower months.

“In other places I have been like Meekatharra I have gone to do Christmas and new year when they have had a massive shortage of personnel.

Mr Caunce said he was happy to perform a vital unpaid service.

“There are a lot of places up here during the winter months that suffer quite heavily because they don’t have the manpower,” he said.

“A lot of the volunteers in isolated areas are retirees — the average age in some sub centres might be 62.

“Younger people are joining and when they are single and fancy free it is an interesting thing for them to do but when they get married and start a family, it is hard.”

Mr Caunce said he often conducted patient transfers with the RFDS, and in southern WA with the RAC rescue helicopters based at Jandakot and Bunbury.

“A lot of jobs that we go to that are isolated are time critical,” he said.

“The problem is complicated by the isolation.

“If you are 45 minutes out of RPH you can get that patient to hospital in a comfortable time frame.”

Mr Caunce said as an experienced ambulance officer he often acted as a mentor for new volunteers.

“I have passed on a lot of experience from other regions to other sub centres,” he said.

“I have also helped with training up newer members coming into the industry, new volunteers, where they get partnered up with me and I show them stuff on the job.”

Mr Blake said St John was always looking for volunteers in Geraldton and across the regions.

“As a volunteer you need to be of good character, medically fit to fulfil requirements, have an unrestricted driver’s licence and Apply First Aid Certificate, formerly known as the Senior First Aid Certificate,” he said.

Volunteer enquiries welcome by phoning 1800 069 393 from Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 4.30pm.

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