24 March 2020
APA (NSW) is calling on the NSW Government to declare a State of Emergency (SoE) and provide NSW Health and NSW Ambulance with the resources required to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
This declaration will enable resources and funding to be made more readily available to help fight this pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the NSW Health system was already under immense pressure, with resources struggling to meet demand. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressure is only increasing, and it is frontline staff bearing the brunt of the risk. Frontline staff are working hard to do what they can for their communities, but they need help.
APA (NSW) members in Control Centres have reported that on Friday 20 March the volume of calls was as high as New Year’s Eve, which is typically NSW Ambulance’s busiest night of the year. There were approximately 3700 calls in one 24 hour period from Friday evening to Saturday morning.
Coupled with ongoing paramedic shortages we have received reports of paramedics working shifts in excess of 16 hours and supervisors being tasked to general duties ambulances to assist with the excessive workload. “This is a case of stretching the bandaid not healing the wound”, said APA (NSW) Assistant Secretary and operational paramedic Liu Bianchi.
APA (NSW) has received reports that personal protective equipment (PPE) is being exhausted at a number of ambulance stations, in addition to a lack of hand sanitizer supplies. Frontline staff are feeling overwhelmed and under protected – whilst trying to ration their PPE supplies.
Without sufficient levels of PPE on stations and in ambulances at all times Paramedics are being placed in an untenable position of not wearing PPE and potentially spreading COVID-19 or not making contact with patients at all. This is an unacceptable position in which to place our paramedics.
“The current system for identifying and prioritizing COVID-19 and acute respiratory infections via 000 calls is not working. There are concerning reports of Paramedics not being informed that their patient potentially has COVID-19 before they have arrived on site,” said Ms Bianchi. “We are flying blind, trying to do the best we can with the information available to us. It’s a Paramedics worst nightmare to contract COVID-19. Nobody wants to think about what will happen if significant numbers of Paramedics have to self-isolate due to respiratory symptoms, or, are so fatigued they cannot attend work.”
Ms Bianchi said that “representatives of APA (NSW) have raised these issues with the Ministry of Health but we are yet to see any meaningful improvement.”
Victoria and the ACT have both rightly declared a State of Emergency due to this unprecedented health crisis.
This week, APA (NSW) wrote to the NSW Premier to demand NSW do the same. The letter read “Our Government must ensure that our health system and the people of NSW are given the resources needed to battle this pandemic.”
“With more than 700 cases of COVID-19 in NSW as of Monday, our heroic health workers and the NSW community cannot wait any longer for action.” said Ms Bianchi. “More Paramedics must be put on road and dispatchers and call-takers put into Control Centres in order to keep up with demand. Mobile decontamination units must be implemented at every major regional and metropolitan hospital to allow for timely patient handover and to reduce the spread of the infection.”