Emergency services are exposed to more trauma, suffering and death in a single shift than most Victorians would deal with in a lifetime.

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Police Association Secretary Ron Iddles says emergency services are exposed to more trauma, suffering and death in a single shift than most Victorians would deal with in a lifetime.
VIC News
Police and ambulance mental health unions want radical change to mental health treatment

Keith Moor, Herald Sun
June 28, 2016 8:00pm

Report says Victoria Police fail to care for members’ mental health
VICTORIA’S police and ambulance unions want the Andrews Government to make a radical change to the way its members get mental health treatment.

The powerful organisations have joined forces and will on Wednesday announce a concerted political campaign on behalf of the state’s 18,000 police and paramedics.

What they want is a reversal of the onus of proof so employers have to prove an employee’s post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t caused by workplace trauma — and they want it now.

At present, it is up to emergency service personnel to show they got PTSD on the job.

The two unions have told Police Minister Lisa Neville the current system means much-needed treatment can be delayed for years as WorkSafe Victoria disputes claims.

In a hard-hitting submission, which has been seen by the Herald Sun, the Police Association and Ambulance Employees Australia asked Ms Neville to legislate to ensure:

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Police Minister Lisa Neville meets with Victoria Police members. Picture: Mark Stewart
■ The proposed legislation includes a clause with retrospective effect so any emergency services worker’s claim denied prior to the new law can be resubmitted with updated medical evidence for reassessment.

■ That PTSD is defined as a proclaimed illness for all emergency service workers.

■ The cumulative nature of PTSD with respect to emergency services workers is recognised.

“Our emergency services are exposed to more trauma, suffering and death in a single shift than most Victorians would deal with in a lifetime,” Police Association Secretary Ron Iddles told the Herald Sun.

“This is further compounded by an organisational culture that discourages help seeking.

“The system needs to change so that an emergency services worker who is suffering from PTSD will have their worker’s compensation claim automatically accepted.

“This would mean relieving emergency services workers of the added stress and burden of having to prove they have developed PTSD from their occupation in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits before seeking the immediate help they need.”

Ambulance Employees secretary Steve McGhie said removing the adversarial approach to PTSD claims would reduce the stress and anxiety felt by emergency services workers and enable earlier treatment so they make a speedier recovery and return to work sooner.
Ambulance Employees secretary Steve McGhie says changing the approach to post-traumatic stress disorder would reduce emergency services workers’ stress and anxiety.

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Picture: Supplied
“We know from extensive research and anecdotal evidence that our police, ambulance and firefighters are around ten times more likely to develop PTSD than the general population,” he said.

“It would therefore help those who are suffering to bring in a system that immediately helps rather than hinders their already tough road toward recovery.”

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Swan Hill copper Joe Walsh was one of the first people to attend the horrific Kerang rail disaster in 2007.

As a long-serving Victoria Police officer, he had seen bodies and badly injured people before.

But Kerang was worse than anything he had ever experienced — and it got personal.
Former Victoria Police officer Joe Walsh was one of the first people to attend the horrific Kerang rail disaster in 2007.

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A fully-laden truck lies beside the rail track a day after it slammed at high speed into a train near Kerang in Australia’s worst rail crash in 30 years. Picture: Craig Borrow/AFP
Among the 11 people who died in the disaster was a good friend of the then leading senior constable Walsh.

That friend’s daughter was also killed.

“I knew on the night it had hit me hard, I just didn’t know how hard at that time,” Mr Walsh, 53, said yesterday.

His mental problems were made worse because his work cover insurance claim was initially rejected — despite two doctors and a psychologist diagnosing him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

That meant he didn’t get the help he needed during the 18 months his lawyers battled with WorkSafe.

Mr Walsh said if the onus of proving PTSD wasn’t work related was on the employer, rather than the employee having to prove it was, then he would probably still be in the force.

“I initially wanted to get back to work after being on sick leave after Kerang,” he said.

“But after the way I was treated by Victoria Police, with no help offered, and by the work cover insurer, who fought against approving my claim for 18 months, I was that bitter it would have been nearly impossible for me to return to work.

“Eventually the force retired me on the grounds of ill-health after 27 years in the job.”

Another force veteran, who asked not to be identified, said she fell victim to all the traumatic events she had been to and seen in her 25 years as a police officer.

“The work cover process was daunting and one I was reluctant to enter,” she said.

“The stigma and feelings of guilt about being diagnosed with a mental illness made reaching out for help hard.

“The delay in the work cover system meant I didn’t get appropriate treatment for eight months.”

keith.moor@news.com.au

 

py of the submission to government with confidential sections (mostly member details/stories redacted for confidentiality reasons) redacted can be found here

http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/wearecrown/mailings/655/attachments/original/Trauma_doesn’t_end_when_the_shift_does_PUBLIC.pdf?1467177119

 

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A Bloody Disgraceful Act

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Let me assure any firefighter (career or volunteer) to whom this happens that both you and I are entitled to a safe workplace and if I am confronted with this situation I will withdraw from the scene taking my firefighter colleagues to a safe location to await the arrival of police to secure the scene.
This is disgraceful, they obviously weren’t that sick

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From a Paramedic

I have been a paramedic with Ambulance Victoria for years now. Over the course of that time I will have seen many times over the amount of trauma and mayhem that all but a select few (veterans, police, firefighters and other ambo’s) will see in their lives.

Over that time, I have not been able to avoid picking up some “ghosts” that stay with me to this day, and indeed will most likely be with me until I die.

The cases are many and varied, from the one-year-old girl reversed over in her driveway who died in my arms to the arsonists who attempted to burn down a pizza restaurant in the early hours one morning in the middle of summer when it was still 30 degrees and the petrol fumes they were splashing around met the pilot light on the hot water service.

From the young man who had an argument with his wife and went to the pub for a few beers to calm down. He never made it home that night, he lost control of his car and struck a power pole. He was conscious and talking to me when we arrived, but when we lifted the dashboard he was trapped under he quickly bled out and died.

Or the man who was murdered by being beaten to death with a bourbon bottle by his drinking partner, and then when the bottle broke had his throat cut. I still remember looking up at on point in the mess and seeing a terrified young boy peering at us from behind a laundry door. As I later discovered the poor little bloke had just witnessed his father beat his step father to death and then cut his throat.

Or the elderly lady who had passed away from entirely natural causes, but unfortunately like a lot of the elderly she was socially isolated so she wasn’t found for a week or so. But in the mean time her Jack Russell had got hungry.

These are just a few of the memories that are now stuck in my head, and get added to with monotonous regularity. How exactly is this not going to affect me.

When this does affect me, how does it not effect my family? They see me come home moody and withdrawn, how can I be otherwise? How can I tell them the horror story that is my working life at times?

The endless grind of shift work, and the pressure to do overtime to cover shift vacancies takes its toll too.

Over the years this takes an effect, my family notice long before I do. I am withdrawn, I don’t want to see people, and why would I? I don’t ever see happy friendly people.
I am tired and cranky, I don’t sleep much anymore. Those ghosts that I told you about keep coming to visit in the night, and scarily in the day sometimes too.
When I am obliged to leave the safety of the house, danger is everywhere, anytime I am with my toddler aged daughter in a car park the danger to me is overwhelming. I am holding her hand for grim life. She knows no different and thinks all dads are like this, I at times don’t know who is looking after who.
My wife sometimes jokes she is the single mother of two children, she just wants her husband back.

This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to emergency workers. We burst in on other people’s worst days and take control. It’s central to who we are.
But it’s just not working anymore.
The one thing I am still managing is providing for my family.

But now the wheels are falling off, and I cannot work at the minute, the doctors are telling get me I may never be able to go back to emergency work again.
So what the hell am I going to do.
I put in a Workcover claim but am told they don’t have to accept my claim, and will let me know in their good time.
Now I have to recount my story to the Workcover person, in minute detail which only serves to make things worse. This person is an insurance agent, never having worked in emergency services and cannot possibly understand what I am talking about no matter how hard they try.
The service is dragging its feet with the paperwork, can’t find any record of some jobs. I am trying to explain that it’s not really any one job, it’s many over an extended period. The final job was just the one that “popped the cork” and all this other stuff comes out.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the way Workcover works, they want a specific incident. They are so rigid in the way they do things.
I have had to explain all this to my doctor already and it was near soul destroying and I have known him for nearly thirty years, and now I am expected to bear my soul to the insurance company.
I still have no idea whether the claim will be accepted, no idea whether I can continue to provide for my family. My only saving grace is that as such a dinosaur I have quite a bit of sick leave up my sleeve, otherwise I’d be stuffed with the mortgage.
I had been referred to the PTSD clinic at the repat hospital, but they only accept “compensable injuries”, so even though they agree that my injury is caused by work I still don’t know what WorkCover is doing.
I have had to go through yet again my story in minute detail at the repat, but at least they have a better understanding of my situation so it’s not quite as soul destroying as the last time for the insurance company.
The insurance company must be looking into my claim, there are now two guys sitting off my house in a Silver Lancer and they have been there for several days.
In my mind, whether it’s true or not, they must not believe me. They are trying to catch me out, this only makes things worse, I can’t even leave the house anymore.
And I still don’t know if Workcover have accepted the claim, and if they have investigators watching me what does that mean?
I’ve only got so much sick leave, how the hell can I pay the mortgage if this goes on much longer. I’ve only got so much sick leave, and I have a lot more than the younger guys.
The insurance company then sends me off for an independent medical examination, now I am supposed to bear my soul to a Collins Street psychiatrist whom I have never met, or who has never met me.
This will be fun; I basically don’t leave the house anymore so I am not even sure I can make it into the city let alone see the IME.
Eventually after the IME, they finally let me know they have accepted my claim.
The statutory time limits have long since passed.
Now I really don’t leave the house except to go to appointments, I am worse than I was when I originally went off work because of this dragged out inhuman process that is Workcover.

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“It still makes me cry now, just to even think about it,”

These are the words of former police sergeant Ron Fenton, at his treatment by Victoria Police after being shot on the job in the head in 1984.

He was off work for four months but after a lot of rehabilitation he went back out on the road.

Twenty-eight years later, he was forced out because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I had absolutely no help at all,” he said. “My entire treatment I had from the police force when I first got shot was two appointments with the police psychologist.

“[After that] no-one bothered to do any follow up and I was left to fend for my own career, was given no career guidance no assistance whatsoever.”

He went on to say, “After rehabilitating and getting myself back on the street and asking for help, in fact crying and begging for help, the response was: tough, you’re not worth it, get out.”

Last week Victoria Police released a report into the mental health of police, the findings were damning.

Another police member was quoted in the report as saying, “Give me a dead body to look at over a poor manager to deal with anytime.”

How does this relate to Ambulance Victoria, an organisation with an absolutely disgraceful record of staff suicide? Well they have employed several of the managers in Victoria Police who presided over the disgraceful treatment of members.

The current managers of both People and Culture (which encompasses the ironically named Health Safety and Welfare department) and the Ambulance counselling unit have come over from VicPol.

If they presided over such a toxic police culture, just how much damage can they do with the already disgraceful record at AV?

It seems not only Police Minister Graeme Ashton will have his work cut out for him, but so will Ambulance Victoria CEO Tony Walker

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Are we going backwards?

Remember the change of government and all the nice promises of looking after their staff and being more people oriented instead of the target obsessed dehumanising organisation it had been for some years.

I do have to give the new management their due, they made a good start with initiatives to try and reduce forced overtime, and introduce some roster flexibility into the job.

Without this it made it nearly impossible for paramedics to fulfil their parental responsibilities, maintain any sort of work life balance, when as a matter of course ten hour shifts turned into at times fourteen and fifteen hour shifts, and the fourteen hour night shifts semi regularly turning into sixteen to eighteen hour shifts.

But things had been getting better, people were getting away on time more often, this made them happier and meant they were getting far less fatigued.

Now as an initiative to reduce response times the organisation has introduced dispatch changes in an attempt to reduce Code 1 response times, in part by reducing code 1 (lights and sirens) responses.

Now it seems to be all about the targets again.

Word has it that a Duty Manager (controls ambulances in the control room) has been disciplined by his superiors with a warning letter being placed in their personnel file. The great offence that this Duty Manager has committed?

They had the audacity to try and get a crew home after the completion of their shift, instead of blindly following the “computer says.”

It seems AV are blindly following targets again instead of looking after their staff.

Bugger it

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All Care, No Responsibility

Hi, back again with another story of how Ambulance Victoria managers treat their staff.

These days paramedics are required to attend university and attain a degree (with an associated HECS debt of between $30-40K), before they even apply to the organisation for a job.

If they are then successful they are offered a 12 month internship to find their feet in the profession before they become qualified paramedics. During this time they have many responsibilities to the organisation, and are largely at the whim of managers and clinical instructors. Some of whom are very, very good, some of whom not so. But you would hope there are safeguards in the system should problems arise.

But are there? Remember in my last post the story of the “drug policy”, which as yet is only in draft stage, but that hasn’t stopped some managers using it as a tool to, “have a go”.

Not very long ago a newly qualified paramedic was met at their station by the group manager and told they were under suspicion of drug abuse and stood down pending a drug test.

This paramedic did seek advice and was told they were not obliged as the policy was not yet in force, but the manager simply persisted and demanded the test threatening the paramedic that a refusal would be treated as a positive test and may result in termination. Given that the paramedic consented as you would expect someone to do when confronted with this deliberately intimidating behaviour when they are young and only just out of university.

Well the test came back negative as everyone, except this manager, was sure it would and some questions were asked of how this paramedic came under suspicion. Apparently the organisation keeps a record of all the drugs given by every paramedic, and on review it was felt that this paramedics pattern of administration of the drug fentanyl which was frequent small doses was regarded as suspect. To everyone else I speak to it seems quite reasonable to give smaller doses when you start out until you gain confidence with a drug. This will of course entail giving more doses to get the desired effect.

So AV in their wisdom have taken a keen and enthusiastic young paramedic and tried to break them for what?

They can’t have been that worried surely? As the paramedic was not yet qualified when these cases they were querying occurred the paramedic was acting under the supervision of the Paramedic Educator and the Team Manager at the station, and maybe even a Clinical Instructor. Surely they would have been asked too, as they were supposed to be offering supervision and guidance.

The silence from them however was deafening.

 

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Yep, Things Sure Have Changed

Throughout this blog there has been a common theme, the disregard and disdain with which Ambulance Victoria treats its staff.

With the enterprise bargaining period now terminated paramedics can no longer speak out, for fear of being hunted and subject to disciplinary action.

Well as a wife I am not subject to your polices and procedures of fear, so I will be speaking out in the vague hope that someone will listen.

With the recent acknowledgement by the coroner that paramedics kill themselves at least four times greater than the general public, and that more paramedics may have problems with psychological injuries and addiction AV has sought to introduce a drug policy.

Does this policy seek to address the welfare of the paramedics serving in the organisation, nope. Its all about image, so that the management can say how tough they are on drugs.

While I will have more to say in coming weeks, let me give you an example of thee care provided around the issue of drugs.

What happens when a paramedic is accused of drug abuse is they are met at their branch by their Group Manager and stood down. This means they are isolated from branch their access cards are removed and even their email access is revoked.

A urine test is then demanded and if the paramedic has any concerns they are simply bullied and threatened. They are not told how they came to be suspect, they are refused any information as to any accusations that may have been made against them, they are simply made to pee in a cup and told to go home and not come back until they are contacted.

They effectively have no rights, certainly less than most accused in the judicial system who are at least allowed to know the nature of the accusations against them. Otherwise how are they supposed to defend themselves. Lawyers call this natural justice, apparently paramedics are not entitled to this.

Recently a paramedic was stood down, a drug test demanded. The paramedic complied simply as they believed it was the fastest way  of sorting this out.

When the drug test came back clear, the paramedic told the Group Manager exactly what they thought of the procedure as it stood.

The Group Manager was so incensed at being told this that AV’s peer support was involved to soothe their hurt feelings.

Strangely, peer support (the AV counselling/mental health service) had not been been involved to this point. They had not been involved while a paramedic was accused, they had not been involved while a paramedic was systematically isolated by the management. They were not called when this paramedic was isolated at home not knowing whether their long career was over, or the police may be knocking on the door.

They were only involved to assuage a manager’s hurty feelings.

I guess that tells you where AV’s priority lies.

I think it is a very good thing that this paramedic was clearly not someone at the edge resorting to drugs to ease the pain or the outcome may have been very different. Not that that is apparently an issue as far as AV is concerned.

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