ARARAT - Paramedics in Ararat have joined the chorus of concern surrounding the provision of patient services in the region.
Paramedics state wide recently voted in favour of industrial action that has allowed them to speak out about their current working conditions.
The first stage of the action included lifting a ban on social media and a media gag placed on paramedics that stopped them from talking to the media and expressing their concerns.
Recently Stawell Paramedic and State Councillor of Ambulance Employees Association - Victoria Greg Hallam detailed numerous examples of where Stawell had been left without an ambulance because it was required to cover areas including Ararat, Horsham and St Arnaud.
Now, Ararat Paramedic Matthew Pearce has revealed Ararat faces some of the same issues on a daily basis.
Mr Pearce said there are times when Ararat will be left without an ambulance in the town.
"Should there be a patient transfer you have the travel time to Ballarat, then the waiting time for a bed, followed by return travel time," he said.
"That means three to four hours pass before there is an ambulance back in Ararat."
In 2011 Ararat moved to a 24 hour branch which meant there was a crew on duty 24 hours a day.
"This has been good for reducing fatigue levels and providing better coverage, however as part of the change, the second ambulance that used to be on during the day was lost," he said.
"This means when transfers to Ballarat occur during a shift, there is no back up ambulance available and therefore ambulances need to come from Stawell or other areas to attend jobs that may occur while the Ararat ambulance is out of town.
"Quite often we will find ourselves in the situation where the second ambulance in Stawell is responding to a call in St Arnaud and Horsham."
Mr Pearce said it is hard to definitively say whether patient health is being jeopardised, but the signs are there.
"The whole idea of speedy response and speedy treatment as a key performance indicator is brought into question when these types of things are occurring," he said.
"We need to see a better utilisation of resources to avoid situations like the ones we are facing.
"Generally speaking if someone has a heart attack or stroke and there is no ambulance in Ararat, then they have to wait.
"So obviously if we had that second car, people wouldn't have to wait as long as they do sometimes currently."
Mr Pearce also highlighted the lack of Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) paramedics in Ararat and across the region.
"MICA paramedics are unable to transfer to rural stations that do not have MICA positions without losing their MICA classification and rate of pay," he said.
"Local paramedics who want to improve their qualifications and knowledge can not become MICA officers without transferring to stations with MICA officers such as Ballarat, Geelong, Bendigo or Metropolitan Melbourne.
"This means qualified and experienced local paramedics are unable to stay in their town, if they want to extend their qualifications.
"Conversely MICA paramedics who are burnt out in the city have no option to transfer to some country areas."
Mr Pearce said people in Ararat miss out on access to the highest qualified paramedics that Ambulance Victoria has to offer unless the MICA paramedics travel from Ballarat, adding to waiting times or by helicopter.
"Patients who need to be moved on to higher levels of care such as Ballarat Base or any of the Melbourne hospitals are often delayed having to wait for MICA paramedics to come and retrieve them from Ballarat or by air," he said.
"If there were MICA officers available locally then this could cut down the amount of time needed to get patients to higher levels of care."
The Ararat Ambulance Sstation currently has 10 permanent staff, six of whom travel from Ballarat to work.
"We have gone from just two staff in 2009 to 10 today, but the number of cars available to us has been reduced from two to one," he said.
Mr Pearce said a recent Ambulance Victoria Workforce Retention Study, which found that 55 per cent of the state's paramedics intend to quit their jobs in the next five years because of their pay, was a worry.
"We will get to the stage where people will be planning to leave in such high numbers that we will have no experience or continuity of care," he said.
"The knowledge from people who have been around for years will be lost.
"We're all concerned about the provision of patient care going forward."
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