The paramedics' union claims the shift changes had already led to the death of an 80-year-old man. Picture: Brad Hunter Source: The Daily Telegraph
AN elderly man's death has been blamed on a rostering system that removes paramedics from night duty and puts them on during busier afternoon shifts.
The new system has been introduced at four stations in the Sydney metropolitan area, meaning there are more crews at periods of "high demand" but only one between 10pm and 7am.
The paramedics' union HSUeast claims the shift changes had already led to the death of an 80-year-old man at Gorokan on the Central Coast, who waited almost an hour for an ambulance after suffering a heart attack last month.
HSUeast claimed it was a cost-cutting measure as on-duty staff were paid more for working overnight but on-call crews were paid a retainer and only got penalty pay when they responded to an emergency.
HSUeast assistant industrial manager Tom Stevanja said: "Late last year the Ambulance Service of NSW said it was looking at how to utilise resources using historical data. This is using the idea of matching demand to rostering, looking where we have most of our demand, that is 5pm to 10pm. From 10pm to 7am it drops off, so there is only one crew on. This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul."
The Gorokan man died on June 17. On-duty paramedics had been called to John Hunter Hospital, leaving "no
coverage", Mr Stevanja said. "People don't have heart attacks in accordance with historical data."
An Ambulance Service of NSW spokeswoman said the new rostering arrangements meant there were more paramedics available when they were needed most.
"The Ambulance Service is introducing rosters where crews previously rostered to night shift are being redeployed to afternoon shift, in line with the need to increase deployment hours in times of peak demand," she said.
"An analysis ... shows higher emergency activity occurring during the middle of the day rather than at night."
Acting Health Minister Kevin Humphries said the death in Gorokan was not a result of rostering and a full investigation was under way into the cause of the delay.
"The minister has also asked the Ministry of Health to look at emergency department procedures because at times ambulances can get caught up at hospitals," he said.
The rostering issue comes as northern NSW prepares to treat emergency department patients via video link.
The Northern NSW Local Health district has come under fire from local residents.
If, as planned, the "telemedicine" system is rolled out in October, emergency patients at Mullimbimby Hospital will be seen via video by a doctor at the Tweed Hospital.