Paramedic shortage near crisis point: union

ONLY six out of 18 MICA paramedics are available to work in Ballarat this weekend, according to the ambulance union.Ambulance Employees Australia said Ararat paramedics were also regularly working 24-hour shifts to cover emergencies.And Ararat Police have been forced to transport patients to hospital rather than wait for a Stawell ambulance to arrive.All of this, according to the AEA, points to the Grampians region ambulance service being in crisis.However, Ambulance Victoria denied the claims, saying Ballarat currently has 19 paramedics rostered in Ballarat as well as the two-person and single responder units.AV Grampians region regional manager Greg Leach said, even accounting for sick, holiday and long service leave, there was still a "comfortable" number of MICA-trained paramedics in the region.But AEA state secretary Steve McGhie said the death last week of Maryborough great-grandfather Dick Gouge highlighted the service's inadequacies."Unfortunately this man wasn't given the best possible opportunity to survive," Mr McGhie said.Mr Gouge died of a suspected heart attack after collapsing at his Palmerston Street home. No Maryborough ambulance was available so paramedics were sent from Avoca and Castlemaine, arriving 38 minutes after the initial 000 call."Ballarat regularly has both MICA and single-unit responder shifts not covered," Mr McGhie said."The workload is increasing but there is a lack of paramedics."Mr McGhie said Ballarat was the only 24-hour station in the region, with Ararat, Daylesford, Avoca, Ballan, Stawell, St Arnaud and Maryborough all only on-call."If these stations are on breaks, they don't replace them. They just send the next closest ambulance to respond."You've got to give everyone the best possible opportunity to survive."Mr Leach said Ararat paramedics worked a 10-hour day shift and then could be called out for a case or two overnight.Mr McGhie said Beaufort is also only covered by first-aid trained community volunteers, who are often forced to attend serious accidents on the Western Highway.However, Mr Leach said the Beaufort volunteers were always backed up by a professional paramedic crew from either Wendouree or Ararat.