Volunteers under pressure
The sheer workload on unpaid ambulance volunteers across the Capes region is front and centre of the State Government’s review into country services.
The long-awaited draft review noted a greater workload on volunteers in WA than any other State, while WA was also the only State not to run its own ambulance service.
“The WA ambulance service operates with the lowest funding per capita out of all the States and also spends the least per capita,” the review found.
“St John Ambulance country ambulance services spend less per capita on service delivery than metropolitan ambulance services (driven primarily by the extensive volunteer workforce) and carry almost twice the bad debt.
“The service model was found to be under immense pressure from rising demand — particularly from increasing needs to transport patients between hospitals — and is suffering from fragmentation between the multiple system players.
“This increasing demand is not served well by the current model and the complexity of the system has made improvement a challenge.”
Despite seven reviews in recent years, no future analysis was undertaken until now.
And the latest strategy doesn’t mention a spate of worker suicides, investigated by the State’s chief psychiatrist, which led to two reports identifying a “culture of bullying” and “toxic” workplaces within St John Ambulance.
But the draft strategy recom- mends more paid paramedics for regional areas and reducing pressure on frontline workers as essential.
An ambulance officer who asked to remain anonymous told the Times there had been increased demand on volunteers in the past five years, driven by population growth and tourism, with the system wholly reliant on the “goodwill” of volunteers and supporters.
The observations were backed by the report, which found “the lack of investment supporting the volunteers places the future sustainability of the service at risk”.
“The pressure to continue to provide the service based purely on goodwill without the support of a policy framework, equitable strategy or contractual certainty needs to be addressed,” it said.
Direct support for volunteers would include more administrative support, greater access to training, improved telecommunications support and more direct funding.
“Equity of service for country patients is unlikely to be achieved without targeted additional investment in the country ambulance service and an overarching policy framework,” the report said.
The WA ambulance service operates with the lowest funding per capita out of all the States.