15 May 2019

St John Ambulance paramedics 'burnt out, exhausted' in Waikato

9:26 pm on 15 May 2019

An emergency paramedic in Hamilton says her colleagues are at "breaking point" and the city is so under-resourced it could never manage an event like Christchurch's terror attack.

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Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

Lori Gommans is one of many ambulance paramedics saying they're overworked and underpaid, and have been locked in an ongoing pay dispute with St John Ambulance.

She told Checkpoint her colleagues are struggling to cope.

"People are tired, they're burnt out, they're exhausted," she said. "We're begging for more resources in Hamilton. We're buggered, we're at breaking point."

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Lori Gommans says Hamilton does not have enough ambulances and staff to cover demands. Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

She said for the large population of Hamilton, there are only four ambulances during the day and three at night, but those vehicles also have to cover places like Raglan.

"It puts us in a position where we're busy doing call-outs, and there's no cover in Hamilton," she said.

"There could be no cover in Morrinsville for a long time, and there could be no cover any time in Hamilton."

She said a 'purple' call-out severely drains resources on the city - as an advance paramedic, a second crew, and a fire brigade are committed to an incident.

"I worked a night shift recently and we had to go to Raglan... and it took two vehicles out of Hamilton, as well as the fire brigade from Raglan.

"It left one ambulance in Hamilton to cover the entire area for about two hours."

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Photo: RNZ / Alex Perrottet

And she said the lack of resources meant Hamilton would struggle to handle an event such as the Christchurch terror attack.

"We would struggle. We would do our absolute best but we would struggle with the current capacity of ambulances," she said.

"Christchurch had enough ambulances to deal with the situation and save a lot of lives, I don't know if that would be the same in Hamilton."

Ms Gommans said money was the most pressing thing. "That's the short answer. We need more money to pay us better, we need money for more ambulances, to get more staff."

St John Ambulance said it's negotiating in good faith on pay, but it boiled down to funding, and it has asked the government for an increase.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has indicated there could be a funding announcement for St John in the Budget later this month.

St John manager defends service, staffing levels

St John District operations manager Stu Cockburn said the plan in Hamilton is adequate.

"Response times in Hamilton over the last 12 months have remained constant, and in line with response times throughout the country," he said.

He said that is due to a "fluid deployment plan" whereby ambulance and crews in broader Waikato can respond to incidents in Hamilton if needed.

But Ms Gommans said the job is unpredictable and staff are too stretched.

"We never know what's going to happen these days," she said. "Our road toll, particularly in Waikato, is horrific.

"We could be needed at one place and ten minutes later we could be needed in another direction.

"So you're just jumping around from job to job to job to job."

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