The Ambulance Service will direct emergency staff to “babysit” patients in hospital waiting rooms under a new policy paramedics say could put lives at risk.
At the same time, Fairfax Media has obtained information that shows the extent of the burden waiting at emergency departments is placing on paramedics during the busy winter season, with ambulances waiting up to two-and-a-half hours at hospitals on Thursday while emergency calls were waiting for ambulances.
The new directive appears to be in direct opposition to a commitment made by health authorities to phase out the use of so-called Ambulance Release Teams (ARTs) by December last year, after the Auditor-General found they were a waste of money that diverted resources from the emergencies where they were most needed.
Waiting: Ambulances at Gosford Hospital earlier this week. Photo: Supplied
Instead, an internal Ambulance Service “work instruction”, seen by Fairfax Media, shows that the service is now allowing operational managers to direct on-duty paramedics to ART duties, in place of a previous practice of bringing in off-duty teams that would not deplete existing resources if teams were already busy.
However, NSW Ambulance said the work order did not prioritise the use of on-duty paramedics for ARTs, but instead outlined their appropriate use.
Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said staff were being forced into implementing “another pointless cover for the government, one that puts patients at risk”.
“The minister needs to bite the bullet, admit she was wrong, hire more paramedics and put more ambulances on the road,” he said.
In just two examples of the backlog caused by the hospital delays, Fairfax Media understands that by late lunchtime on Thursday there were five ambulances at Blacktown Hospital, one of which had been there more than two-and-a-half hours, and no ambulances available to transport patients in the area around the hospital including Parramatta, Blacktown and Auburn.
By 1.15pm there were six outstanding triple-0 calls and six outstanding time-critical medical transports, sources said.
Earlier that morning at Nepean Hospital, sources said four ambulances had been stuck for half an hour or longer while five outstanding triple-0 calls had not been responded to.
Greg Bruce, an ambulance councillor with the HSU and a paramedic, said ambulance stations simply could not afford to lose cars to wait in hospital emergency departments.
“We don’t want ART shifts, we want hospitals to take responsibility and do what the Auditor-General told them to do,” he said. “If we just have to sit there constantly babysitting, they are going to be left without enough crews.”
“We really just want to go and do our job.”
A spokesman for Ambulance NSW said: “NSW Ambulance did issue a work instruction on July 3 to senior managers that outlines the appropriate use and procedures in utilising both ART and Duty ART. This work instruction does not at any point specify, order, direct or encourage prioritisation of on-duty paramedics to undertake ART.
“NSW Ambulance operational managers weigh up the competing needs at the Emergency Department to determine the most appropriate utilisation of resources. Duty ART is resourced from operational (on duty) crews when rostered ART is not available or is fully occupied elsewhere.”
He said the organisation was working with local health districts on a range of programs to stop the delays, including the Whole of Hospital Program and a project on Turnaround Time.
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