Royal Commission into the NSW Ambulance Service

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The people of NSW highly value Paramedics and the vital work they do and we are sick of hearing promises to fix the Ambulance Service of NSW and then reading death notices. We are sick of families, careers and lives being destroyed by a broken organisation.

In recent months is has come to the public’s attention (again), after a number of tragic suicides, that there are systemic and institutional issues in the Ambulance Service of NSW . As highlighted by the recent death of Paramedic Tony Jenkins there has also been added to these the unquantifiable issue of medication abuse by staff. The pattern and frequency of suicides, mental health issues, attrition, violence and now substance abuse in the the Ambulance Service of NSW is not the cause of the issues in NSW Ambulance but are only symptoms of much deeper issues that have not been adequately addressed and have worsened over recent years.

After a Parliamentary Inquiry into the destructive culture of bullying in the Ambulance Service of NSW and promises that the Ambulance Service of NSW had “already commenced a pathway to fixing the issues” and was “committed to fixing the issues identified”; it appears, nothing has changed. The number of suicides and related mental health issues has only increased in the years since these promises were made after the inquiry. Disappointingly, after recent public scrutiny and political pressure to fix these issues, the Ambulance Service of NSW is once again making the same promises that “so much has been done” and “we are committed to fixing the issues”. The reality is that there has been no proof to support the promises that any internal undertaking by the Ambulance Service will result in any improvement in the culture and support of staff and stop the terrible toll on staff. An internal undertaking that is not transparent, involves the players that are guilty (and will gain from perpetuating the culture), hasn’t any identified measures of success and will merely tell the community when it has decided the issues have been “fixed”.

For many years the staff of the Ambulance Service of NSW have been aware of the issues but help, support and action by the incumbent and successive hierarchies have fallen on deaf ears or resulted in retaliation against individuals.  It is very telling that although senior NSW Ambulance management claims it is apparently “aware”, the impetus for the recent call for change had to come from families of deceased paramedics and the public rather than the Ambulance Service itself; who are tasked with the responsibility of the welfare of its staff, both physically and mentally. 

Enough is enough!  It is not a time to accept a belated apology and then wait and see what improvements can be made internally over the next few years by a process few have faith in and that is closed to external scrutiny and input. History should have taught us that NSW Ambulance lacks the insight and capacity to change its own culture, especially if those who will benefit from a lack of change are in control of the process.

We therefore believe that the only course of action left is for your government to call for a Royal Commission into the Ambulance Service of NSW, to bring out into the open the real state of the behaviour, expose those who are at the root of sustaining the culture and have been guilty of harming staff but more importantly, to find solutions that can be held up to scrutiny and will see future management held to account for effective change. We call upon the Premier of NSW to initiate a Royal Commission into the Ambulance Service of NSW forthwith.