The Guardian March 14, 2001


NSW Ambulance Service: Crisis confirmed

Chronic understaffing, the introduction of a dispatch system that is not 
compatible with the existing infrastructure, and general mismanagement by 
the NSW Ambulance Service are the major problems highlighted by a Health 
and Research Employees' Association campaign and now confirmed by a 
Performance Audit by the NSW Auditor General.

The report, tabled in the NSW Parliament last week, examines the efficiency 
and effectiveness of staff, deployment practices and systems within the 
Ambulance Service of New South Wales.

Audit opinion

The Audit Office is of the opinion that the Ambulance Service has 
considerable work to do to reach its aspiration of being recognised among 
leading examples of best practice. Its overall performance does not appear 
to be keeping pace with improvements in national and international response 
times.

NSW was the last major ambulance service in Australia to implement a 
computerised dispatch system (CAD). The system, introduced over two years 
ago, is yet to deliver the full range of expected benefits and 
improvements. The effective use of CAD information is not yet widespread, 
and the Service has recently received a consultant's report which raises a 
number of concerns about data reliability.

The commitment of the Service to serving the community and the 
professionalism of the Service's officers is not in question. It is, 
however, apparent that a number of barriers to performance will need to be 
overcome for the Service to perform as well as it would wish.

Key Findings

* Benchmarking data published by two sources, but disputed by the Service, 
indicate that its effectiveness (response time) is below that of most other 
States;

* Because of the way CAD was implemented, the Service's current reporting 
of responsiveness is unreliable, and performance over time cannot be simply 
plotted and compared;

* Many of the Service's rosters do not ensure that officers are available 
when and where required to meet the workload;

* Overtime levels are high, and growing as a cost factor;

* Staff available to serve in required roster positions is below 
establishment figures;

* Problems with ambulance diversion and queuing at some major hospitals 
continue to impose significant operational and financial penalties on the 
Service;

* Problems have developed with non-emergency transport work and nurse 
escort arrangements between the Service and some hospitals.

The Service has admitted to a 20 percent increase in demand during the past 
five years while having an attrition rate of five percent of trained 
Ambulance Officers.

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