Country Residents say ‘No Way’ to Ambulance Scheme

Merriwa residents are drawing the line at a proposal from the Ambulance Service of NSW – to trial replacing paramedics in local ambulance districts with volunteers, who have had 10 days limited training.

Under the proposal, ambulances serving the Merriwa, Murrurundi, Stroud, Bulahdelah, Dungog and Gloucester districts would be manned by only one paramedic, with at least 3 years’ training, and one volunteer driver.

Merriwa District Progress Association (MDPA) president, Kim Fenley, said ambulances in other areas had two qualified ambulance officers. This decision exacerbated the city-country divide, and would deliver a sub-standard service to these communities.

At an MDPA meeting held in Merriwa residents voiced concern about this deterioration in the service currently offered.

Mr Fenley said the Association had been corresponding with the Ambulance Service in an attempt to find out exactly what was being proposed.

We received a letter stating that ‘providing high quality health care in an environment of a declining and ageing population is an ongoing challenge.

‘As a consequence, the Ambulance Service has been investing in alternate models of care and one model is designed to strengthen and foster the long traditions of partnership between communities and volunteers and the ambulance.’

This response takes no account of the increase in traffic (especially heavy transport) along the Golden Highway between Newcastle and Dubbo.

It also disregards the load placed on one paramedic attending a multi-vehicle or single vehicle accident with multiple passengers, when there is only an unqualified volunteer driver to assist.

The paramedic has to take into account the safety of all the “casualties”, the volunteer, and him or herself.

How will the volunteers get on at their first fatal car accident? We have quite a few of those on the Golden Highway.”

Mr Fenley said: “ MDPA members have decided to take action, before this plan goes any further.

Members indicated that it was a retrograde step, returning to the time when communities raised money through local fundraising and chocolate wheels to keep such services running.”

He said this proposal was not one of the recommendations from the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Ambulance Service of NSW; rather they had recommended two qualified ambulance officers, in all ambulances throughout NSW.

Following extensive media coverage of the MDPA decision late last week, the group has received feedback from members of other communities likely to be affected. Some of the more conservative responses have been: “ludicrous”, “appalling”, “third world”, and “just not on”.

This trial, without consultation with the communities affected, is contrary to the duty of care the Ambulance Service of NSW and the State Government have to these communities,” Mr Fenley said.

It counteracts the investment in a Multi-purpose Service recently opened in Merriwa by the Commonwealth Government, part of which included a new ambulance station.

Further, the Ambulance Service of NSW is obviously trying to cut costs in regional areas by providing a lesser quality of service. However, to actively jeopardise the health and safety of residents in country districts, and the hundreds of thousands of travellers passing through them, is not an effective way to do it. It’s just not on.

In Merriwa, as in most Australian country districts, we have a long and proud tradition of helping our mates. The Ambulance Service is trying to take cynical financial advantage of this.”

Mr Fenley said it was his understanding that the Ambulance Service of NSW had already approached local fire service members, employed as retained officers, to take on the ambulance volunteer position, and that they had rejected this suggestion or request.

You need two fully trained ambulance officers to handle certain emergencies properly without putting people’s lives at risk.”

Mr Fenley said ambulance paramedics were very highly valued members of the community, for their commitment and uncompromising professional standards.

Here is where we draw the line,” he said.

And if necessary, we’ll take our case to the public across NSW – because, if this trial is implemented and considered successful, then it can happen across the State, placing many more communities at risk.”


Bob Baldwin, Member for Paterson has rejected a plan to replace highly-trained ambulance drivers with volunteers in Bulahdelah, Stroud and Gloucester.

This is yet another example of Labor Government cost-cutting in the health system,” said Mr Baldwin.

If there is an emergency and people need an ambulance, those patients deserve to have fully trained paramedics there to assist them.

Volunteers are the backbone of our community however, medical emergencies can be extremely stressful situations with multiple lives at stake and it is important we utilise the most highly-trained professionals possible,” said Mr Baldwin.

The NSW Government has proposed the use of volunteers as drivers in some regional areas to limit the number of single-person crews.

The Rudd Government needs to work with its NSW counterpart to make health services a priority and ensure adequate funding to train more full time drivers,” said Mr Baldwin.

Getting volunteers from Stroud and Gloucester in the middle of the night is unrealistic and unsafe considering the Rudd Government’s lack of improvements to the Bucketts Way.

Kevin Rudd promised in 2007 that when it comes to our health system, ‘the buck stops with me’, yet it is now clear the buck has simply stopped.

Regional towns such as Bulahdelah, Stroud and Gloucester deserve the same services that are found in Sydney and other city areas.

It is simply not acceptable for Labor to leave regional areas and their patients without adequately trained ambulance drivers just to save a few dollars.”