Hundreds of distressed paramedics prepare to take unprecedented legal action against NSW Ambulance

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Reproduced from the Central Coast Exress, I wish the paramedics all the best. Hopefully this will serve as a warning to ambulance service managers all over Australia who seem to delight in toxic management styles.

DOZENS of distressed ­Central Coast paramedics are set to join a landmark class action against NSW Ambulance over years of alleged bullying, discrimination and harassment by management.

The Express Advocatecan reveal discussions are under way with group litigation specialists Maurice Blackburn in preparation for hundreds of current and former paramedics taking unprecedented legal action against the state’s ambulance service.

Paramedics and a senior industrial officer with the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW) has lifted the lid on decades of alleged abuse by management, a “militaristic culture” of being told to “suck it up and get back to work” after attending highly traumatic scenes, and a lack of support for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

A current Coast paramedic, who did not want to be named, said stress levels were “out of control” due to the lack of relief time between jobs.

“Everyone needs to debrief after being at a traumatic scene. But, because of the bed-lock and delays at hospitals, you just don’t get the relief time between jobs anymore,” he said.

“The bucket of stress is continually being filled up and never released.”

This was backed up in the latest NSW Auditor-General report on NSW Health on Tuesday, which revealed there were not enough paramedics to cover 24-hour rosters outside of metropolitan areas, and ambulance response times for potentially life-threatening cases increased to the highest level in five years.

Another Coast paramedic, who also asked not to be named, said: “I have a daily battle with the ‘black dog’ (depression) and have suicidal thoughts because I just haven’t received the right trauma support this year.”

It comes as new data shows one frontline emergency services worker takes their own life every six weeks. Most were men and the typical age range was 30 to 49 years.

Other analysis this year found ambulance workers were second only to veterinarians in the likelihood that they would take their own lives, with a suicide rate nearly four times higher than the average.

NSW Ambulance said it had increased support for all staff in recent years, including two full-time trauma psychologists.

“NSW Ambulance has increased its ability to conduct debriefing at the scene of an accident, or at an appropriate time following an accident, and we’ve expanded the non-denominational chaplaincy support team across the state,” it said in a statement.

“And we’ve introducing expanded managerial training programs, including two recent Central Coast workshops attended by senior frontline managers focused on supporting staff with welfare, PTSD and stress-related issues.”

A new Facebook page, “No More Neglect”, was started last month by former Sydney paramedic Steve McDowell who quit in January after suffering from PTSD. It is open only to the ambulance community and already has more than 2600 members. There are 3000 frontline paramedics across the state.

Mr McDowell said a class action against NSW Ambulance would send a strong message that the “outdated, militaristic-style service” needed an overhaul.

“Preparations are under way and there’ll be at least a few hundred current and former paramedics — and many from the Central Coast — on board with the class action,” he said.

“We just need to establish whether Ambulance NSW has breached duty of care under the Fair Work Act 2009 due to discrimination, harassment and bullying. And early indications are that we have a solid case.

“There’s never been a class action before against the ambulance service. We’re hoping it will not only bring change in the organisation and culture of the service, but it will properly compensate those who have suffered in many ways at the hands of management in the past.”

He is planning to send a petition, with 10,000 signatures, to the NSW Government calling for a mental health support unit staffed by trauma specialists.

“The public needs to know the ambulance system is at breaking point.”

NSW Ambulance said it had not been notified of a class action in relation to paramedics’ grievances with management and stress-related illnesses.

“Managers receive additional training on their responsibilities, staff referral to appropriate services, escalating critical issues and accessing expert assistance where appropriate,” it said.

“This integrated support program enables concerns to be identified and responded to, with the right resources at the right time, providing better outcomes for staff.”

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