Vol­un­teers un­der pres­sure

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News -

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.

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