Barossa ambulance crews pushed to the limit

Barossa ambulance crews are being pushed to the limit and working up to 96-hours straight as ramping and workloads increase, a union says.

The Ambulance Employee Association (AEA) of South Australia have spoken out against the current shift structure on behalf of local ambulance workers. Photo: Supplied

The Ambulance Employee Association (AEA) of South Australia have spoken out against the current shift structure on behalf of local ambulance workers. Photo: Supplied

The Ambulance Employee Association (AEA) of South Australia is criticising the roster system in the Barossa and is demanding changes.

Currently, the Barossa is serviced by two ambulance crews on shift during the day.

Overnight this changes to one ambulance crew on shift while the other crew is on call. The on call crew can work four days and nights in a row - up to 96-hours straight.

When asked about the shift loads, a SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) spokesperson acknowledged that the current system meant some crews worked beyond their normal shift pattern but said the number of incidents was "often low."

Ambulance Employee Association industrial officer Leah Watkins disagrees.

"This roster was historically not too much of a burden as the overnight workload was much lower," AEA industrial officer Leah Watkins told the Herald.

"With the current workload and practice of ramping at metropolitan hospitals, the Barossa crews are directly impacted by either getting ramped themselves, or being used to pick up workload in the metro northern region that metropolitan crews can't get to in time, due to them being ramped."

"Even when the on call crew are not dispatched, they are not mentally able to switch off from the job.

"The pager sits beside them 24/7 and at a moment's notice, they have to respond. Some of those on the team don't live in the Barossa region.

"As they are required to be within the town limits during the on call period, several pay to stay at the local caravan park for this on call period.

"This means they don't see their families for 96 hours straight.

"This roster model is no longer appropriate in large regional communities like Barossa."

Ambulance Employee Association said they would be taking SA Ambulance, the Department of Health and the Government more broadly, to the SA Employment Tribunal to argue for this roster where it exists across the state to be converted to shift crews 24/7.

"This would mean our Paramedics and the community are no longer at risk of them being made to work an archaic, fatiguing roster," Ms Watkins said.

However, SAAS say they are on board to find a better system in the Barossa.

In other regional centres, including Waikerie, Naracoorte, Millicent and Renmark, SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) has successfully transitioned away from on call rosters and introduced 24/7 shift patterns.

"SAAS is working with the government and the Ambulance Employees Association to remove the on call rosters on a priority basis," a SAAS spokesperson said.

The prospect of a new Barossa Hospital Hub - currently under investigation by Health SA - could also affect the workload of local crews.

"Many regional areas across South Australian benefit from excellent public hospitals." SAAS said.

"This means that SAAS is able to transport more patients within the region rather than being transferred to metropolitan hospitals, allowing crews to stay within area and serve the local community."