STAWELL - A pay dispute between the State Government and Ambulance Victoria has allowed paramedics to break their silence on the precarious state of staffing and the affects it is having on patient services in the area.
Stawell Paramedic and State Councillor of Ambulance Employees Association - Victoria Greg Hallam, said Ambulance paramedics across the state have voted in favour of Industrial action.
"The first stage of action includes lifting a ban on social media and a media gag placed on us that stops us from talking to the media and expressing our concerns," he said.
Mr Hallam has detailed multiple occasions in recent weeks when Stawell has been left with either one ambulance or without an ambulance at all for several hours.
On one Friday night recently the only ambulance in Stawell left town after 5pm and didn't arrive back until 10.30pm.
"That meant that for at least five hours, there was no ambulance in Stawell that evening," Mr Hallam said.
The ambulance was sent to a call in Ararat, while the Ararat ambulance was at the town's hospital.
In the most perplexing example yet Mr Hallam has told of an occasion when one of Stawell's ambulance crew was sent to St Arnaud, while the other was moved to Horsham to cover staff shortages there.
An Ararat crew then had to respond to a routine call out in Stawell.
The Stawell ambulance on the way back from St Arnaud then attended to the patient, allowing for the Ararat ambulance to remain in Ararat.
"It is lucky it was just a routine transport, but this person had to wait an additional 40 minutes to be simply transferred to hospital," Mr Hallam said.
"This is something that has been happening regularly for a lengthy period of time.
"At least three to four times a week we are seeing pressures placed on operational needs due to staff shortages."
Mr Hallam said although the Stawell Ambulance Station had increased in numbers from just three staff four years ago to 15 staff today, you need to look beyond the figures.
"Three of the staff are always on holidays and another three are Melbourne based," he said.
Mr Hallam said more often than not Stawell is left at half capacity.
"On this particular day we had what we called the Stawell car and the Paradise car. The Paradise car was moved to Horsham, along with a student paramedic on an observer placement.
"This left just two crew and one ambulance in town for the remainder of the shift."
Mr Hallam said some of the feedback from staff has become less than encouraging and is a symptom of the state wide problem.
"We have new staff who have been here just on twelve months whocome back with comments like 'that was the worst shift ever' or 'nights are getting busier' or 'spent another day in Horsham'," he said.
"These aren't the types of things you want to hear from colleagues and staff, but they are arising due to the pressures being placed on them.
"As a paramedic we join because all we want to do is look after patients.
"We only have one night shift and sometimes they are required to have to go to Horsham to pick up a patient and transport them to either Ararat or Beaufort and in the worst case Ballarat."
Mr Hallam said that without a doubt waiting times in Stawell would have increased due to the staffing pressures.
Mr Hallam who is also a paramedic educator said Stawell has been given a four wheel drive for the Grampians.
"We have a four wheel drive so we can transport patients within the Grampians region, but it was deemed that only six of the 15 staff needed to be trained in how to operate it," he said.
"We now have days where the vehicle can't be operated because the staff who are working aren't trained to operate it."