I’ve had four life-threatening events in my life; three of which have resulted in an ambulance being called and being rushed off to hospital. On each occasion I have greatly appreciated the prompt, professional and caring attitude of the paramedics who attended me.
Last week my father-in-law had a bad turn while we were enjoying a family dinner at a restaurant. An ambulance was called and arrived within minutes. Once again, we experienced amazing people who were there to do an incredible job.
While we were waiting for my father-in-law to be admitted to emergency we chatted with one of the paramedics. She shared with us some of the challenges of her job – the shift work, the strain on relationships, the abuse from drug and alcohol-affected patients, seeing people with horrific injuries and having to tell family that their loved one has passed away. She told us she trained for three years but that most paramedics are only able to serve for an average of four years in the job because of the extreme stress and strain that accompanies it.
In light of this conversation it was no surprise to me to read in The Age that about “one in five paramedics has reported suffering from stress, depression or anxiety, with insiders warning of a growing reliance on drugs to cope.” (The Age, 8 Dec 2013)
The research was based “767 psychological assessments given to staff as part of an Ambulance Victoria counselling program. According to the figures, 183 out of the 767 respondents experienced mild to extreme stress (including 14 in the ”extreme” category). A further 182 reported mild to extreme depression (21 extreme cases) and 149 reported mild to extreme anxiety (27 extreme cases).”
There are also reports suggesting that 10 paramedics have died by suicide in the past four years.
Victoria has the highest trained paramedics in Australia. But they are also amongst the lowest paid. This is simply unjust; they deserve to be valued for their work. Paramedics in other states are paid up to 30 per cent more. In South Australia they are paid an additional $23,000.
Steve McGhie, State Secretary of Ambulance Employees Australia, has made his position clear, stating, “all paramedics want is to be fairly valued for the dangerous and stressful jobs they do … the ambulance service in Victoria is at breaking point right now and it’s only going to get worse if the Premier refuses to stop putting money into his own pocket while forcing pay cuts onto paramedics.”
The Age says, “The data comes as the Napthine government tries to end its long-standing stoush with the ambulance union over wages and work conditions. The union has been offered a 12 per cent pay rise over three years, but has so far rejected it.”
According to the Code Red Campaign, more than half of Victorian Paramedics are planning to change their career for higher paid jobs in other industries. Younger paramedics and recent graduates are moving interstate, seeking out better wages. This will have severe consequences for the people of Victoria in their times of greatest need.
If you want to get involved, sign the petition at change.org and show the Premier, Denis Napthine, that you value our paramedics. You can also “like the “Code Red – Value our Ambos” Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and go to the Fair Go Blog to hear some of their personal stories.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, said “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right” (Jam 2:8). Let’s do what’s right and support our paramedics at this time. They certainly deserve it.