Health Services Amendment (Paramedics) Bill 2015

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [5.54 p.m.]: I am proud to support the Health Services Amendment (Paramedics) Bill 2015, which acknowledges the high level of clinical training required to become a paramedic in New South Wales and gives certainty to those who use paramedical services that they are getting the best possible care. I look forward to seeing this legislation being pushed at a national level so there is national registration for paramedics. Many people who are active in the NSW Rural Fire Service, as I am, or in the State Emergency Service or in other groups have worked with paramedics at the scene of car accidents and other unfortunate events and we have seen the quality of their care.

To tell a personal story: Some 30 years ago I was the victim of a criminal assault. The criminals who attacked me fractured my skull, knocked out my teeth and caused other injuries. If not for the paramedics that day—who I never knew; no-one ever knows who these people are that save our lives—who took me to the district hospital and from there to a major hospital for head injuries, I would not be here today. We must respect and acknowledge that type of level of care and determination to look after the people who are their patients. We must ensure funding for these paramedics and we must ensure that the health system supports them.

The electorate of Prospect has Fairfield Hospital in the south in Smithfield and is also serviced by Blacktown, Liverpool and Westmead hospitals. Unfortunately, all those hospitals are experiencing trolley-block or bed-block as ambulances arrive at emergency departments. That is stopping the work of these paramedics; it means they are tied up time and time again waiting with patients in emergency areas. I think at one stage Blacktown hospital had a waiting time for the admission of some patients of two days—certainly it was more than 24 hours. We hear similar stories about Fairfield Hospital, which is chronically under resourced. The emergency department is not much bigger than the benches in this Chamber and it used to be a walk-in clinic.

A master plan has been agreed for Fairfield Hospital and the green light has been given by the Government but there was not a cent of funding for it in the budget. Not a cent was given to the hand clinic, which was transferred from Liverpool Hospital to Fairfield Hospital, to get it out of demountable facilities. I do not know about anyone else, but if I wanted to have surgery on my hand or if I wanted to consult an expert physician I would not want to go to a demountable building out the back. However, that is what people are facing at Fairfield Hospital. Paramedics are forced to wait with patients and ambulances outside emergency departments in many of these hospitals because there are simply no beds available in the emergency departments or in the wards themselves.

New South Wales paramedics attend more than one million cases a year and there are fewer than 3,500 paramedics. The Government has said that it has increased that number by 250 or so and I commend the Government for that, but we need more. We need more well-trained paramedics and we need a support mechanism to get students through university or other types of training so they can become paramedics. Increasing students' fees will not help them do that. Every day more than 3,500 calls are made to 000 and emergency assistance usually gets dispatched within about 30 seconds. However, the average number of ambulance responses has increased to close to 1.5 per cent in the past 12 months. This means that 26 per cent of all patients presenting in New South Wales in more than 200 hospitals arrive by ambulance—a huge number of people. But staffing shortages and cuts to NSW Health mean patients are often being forced to wait for a very long time in the ambulance before being admitted into an emergency department.

As we all know, paramedics are often at the front line, saving lives and ensuring patients are treated and managed appropriately until the patient can be transported and admitted to a hospital. It must be acknowledged that this is highly stressful work and, unfortunately, sometimes very dangerous work. The increasing incidence of mental health issues amongst our paramedics also needs to be acknowledged and funding provided for their care. The paramedics who work in the New South Wales health system are extremely important but they are also extremely vulnerable. They have to do very stressful work as first responders. It is fantastic that paramedics will be recognised as highly educated people who have had the training that is now required by the Act and I commend the Government for that. In conclusion, I am pleased that the Government is acting to ensure that the critical role that paramedics play in the health system is protected. Apart from the few things I have mentioned in my contribution that need to be pushed further, I believe this bill should be commended. I commend the bill to the House.

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