ESTA denies lives at risk after ambulance dispatch is outsourced

THE Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) has rejected claims it put lives at risk by outsourcing ambulance dispatch operators to Melbourne on Christmas Eve.

Representatives from Ambulance Employees Australia and the Communication Workers Union yesterday slammed ESTA, saying rural Victorian dispatch operators working out of Melbourne were “an accident waiting to happen”. 

Ambulance Employees Australia general secretary Steve McGhie said the Mt Helen ESTA complex should have at least two dispatchers, with adequate local knowledge, working each shift.

Yet from 2.30am on December 25 there was no local dispatch operator, with the job patched to an ESTA complex in Melbourne’s east.

“Put simply, it should never have happened,” Mr McGhie said. 

“Fortunately nothing went wrong.”

Mr McGhie said having no local dispatch operators, who are responsible for allocating ambulances and communicating with paramedics, created dangerous delays which could ultimately cost lives. 

“It’s a great concern and just shouldn’t be happening,” he said.

Communication Workers Union industrial officer Sue Riley said ESTA has been “notoriously short-staffed since day one”, adding that she knew of numerous occasions in which team leaders were taken from their roles and put on the phones. 

“At the end of the day, it actually is a life-and-death situation,” Ms Riley said. 

“We all know what can happen if an ambulance isn’t sent on time.”

ESTA head of corporate affairs Rosie Mullaly hit back at the claims, urging the unions to stop creating fear in the community. 

“This is very irresponsible in that people are trying to scare the people of Victoria with what are complete untruths,” Ms Mullaly said. 

“We’ve done it before and we’ll probably do it again.”

Ms Mullaly said local knowledge was irrelevant for dispatchers when they had a screen in front of them showing incidents and ambulance locations. 

Denying claims that ESTA was understaffed, Ms Mullaly said two employees had called in sick on Christmas Eve, prompting the need to use dispatchers out of Melbourne.

patrick.byrne@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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