Fairfield’s paramedics will soon be operating from Bankstown Ambulance Superstation, in a move that has been met with disappointment from local politicians and first responders.
NSW Ambulance is currently redeveloping the metropolitan areas of the service into the $150 million Paramedic Response Network Program (PRNP). It operates on a ‘hub and spoke’ model with a major station hosting all ambulances, supported by smaller ‘Paramedic Response Points’, or PRPs.
Fairfield paramedics have been assigned to Bankstown superstation, under construction at 96 Canterbury Road – about 14 kilometres away from Fairfield central business district.
Fairfield’s existing station, on Mitchell Street off The Horsley Drive in Carramar, hosts five cars and 30 paramedics. It’s situated two kilometres away from Fairfield City.
Sources have raised serious concerns with the Champion about relocating paramedics to Bankstown. They claim it will leave the Fairfield community vulnerable.
One source told the Champion that Fairfield paramedics were “very unhappy and angry” about the proposal, and said paramedics were “concerned there will be an adverse event” following the new system’s introduction.
Fairfield MP Guy Zangari met with paramedics and representatives from the Australian Paramedics Association on Monday morning to discuss their concerns.
NSW Ambulance director of the paramedic response network program Clare Beech told the Champion the traditional system of embedded community ambulance stations was “not the optimum model for us” and that the new model was designed to “improve mobility”.
The current station will be redeveloped into a PRP and fleet maintenance workshop, and assigned to Liverpool superstation.
Ms Beech said it was important the community realised Fairfield Ambulance Station was not closing.
She emphasised the changes were designed to make the service “more mobile and responsive”.
But Mr Zangari says the proposed changes for the station and its staff “will put lives at risk” and is calling for the plan to be reversed.
Mr Zangari spoke in the NSW Legislative Assembly on the issue on Tuesday morning.
Ms Beech told the Champion that staff were “very excited about the opportunity to move into newer, sophisticated buildings”.
“With any major change programs, a key component is providing information to staff and at every opportunity as information has become available and sites have been announced, that information has been shared with staff,” she said.
“Obviously some staff have more concerns than others, but to be frank across the board I think staff are optimistic.
“Particularly those staff in the busiest areas understand that the real aim here is to make sure we have our people and our stations in the right place.”
Ms Beech said Fairfield ambulance callout statistics showed only 45 per cent were within an 8-10km radius of the current station.
She said the reassignment of Fairfield’s paramedics to Bankstown would see them amalgamated into the superstation’s staff, responding to call-outs across the whole region.
“As is the case today, any patient being responded to in Wetherill Park, Abbotsbury, Bankstown-Liverpool for that matter, will be responded to by the closest ambulance,” Ms Beech said.
“This concept that ambulances are responding from stations or only from their area is quite inaccurate.”
However, a source has raised concerns with the Champion that the location of Bankstown Superstation on Canterbury Road will blow out response times and force fellow first responders, FRNSW and NSW Police, to wait longer for paramedic support.
Australian Paramedics Association (APA) representative Tilak Nabi joined Fairfield paramedics and Mr Zangari on Monday morning to discuss the issue and protest the planned changes.
Mr Nabi said the APA was concerned the proposed changes would negatively impact the working hours, health and safety of the Fairfield paramedics.
“All local knowledge will be lost,” he said.
“Information on problem areas, knowing who regular patients are and how to deal with them.
“If paramedics from Bankstown respond to Fairfield, you can’t pass that knowledge along.
“The other issue is that with extra driving time, paramedics will be less likely to get their breaks, which will lead to them being tired.
“The union is concerned that this will impact patient care and the paramedics’ safety.”
Paramedics will also have to return to Bankstown superstation to restock on medical supplies during their shifts, with no medical consumables held at Paramedic Response Points.
Politicians express concern
Fairfield politicians have expressed their unease about the proposal to relocate our paramedics to Bankstown superstation once it is open in 2017.
Fairfield MP Guy Zangari stood in “solidarity” with the paramedics on Monday morning.
Mr Zangari, also Shadow Minister for Emergency Services, urged NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to reverse the decision.
“This is indicative of a government that is arrogant and just not listening,” Mr Zangari told the Champion.
“It’s as simple as that. They’re not listening to the people who are the professionals delivering vital emergency services to the community.
“If the superstation is 12 kilometres away from where it currently is, you have to add possibly another 10 kilometres to that if you’re in the other extremities of Fairfield.
“This could be the difference between a person who lives or loses their life, simple as that.”
Mrs Skinner said the Opposition was using scaremongering tactics.
“Labor is creating alarm in the community by falsely claiming that Fairfield Ambulance Station is shutting,” she said.
“Under NSW Ambulance’s new model, Fairfield station will continue to function as a paramedic response point, with staff re-assigned to start and end their shifts at a purpose-built ‘superstation’.
“This innovation is designed to reduce the likelihood of delays in ambulance response times by creating a more even deployment of paramedics and ambulance vehicles across Sydney.”
Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone joined Mr Zangari against the decision, telling the Champion:
“In many instances the ambulances are the first to respond to critical matters, they are vitally important.
“I’m very concerned and I urge all our State MPs … and the State Government to not let this happen.”
Fowler MP Chris Hayes also expressed his concern.
“I understand the need for the efficient use of our already strained health resources,” he said.
“However, the relocation of front-line paramedics, simply to satisfy head office bean counters, makes little sense, particularly given the population growth of the area. I fear the proposal will increase response times, which in turn, will have an adverse impact on our community.”
NSW Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said the reality was “Fairfield will be left with the facade of an ambulance station”.
“Paramedics are being relocated elsewhere, paramedic cover will diminish, and no amount of spin or trickery can hide that fact,” Mr Hayes said.
What is a superstation?
NSW Ambulance announced the $150 million Sydney Ambulance Metropolitan Infrastructure Strategy overhaul in mid-2014.
The proposed changes will transform Sydney’s ambulance service into the Paramedic Response Network, operating on the ‘hub and spoke’ model of a major superstation hosting all ambulances in one region with smaller Paramedic Response Points at strategic locations.
NSW Ambulance describes the superstations as “a key hub where emergency ambulance and operational support vehicles are based and where logistics functions such as cleaning and restocking is managed”.
Paramedic Response Points will provide facilities for paramedics to complete administrative tasks, have lunch breaks and wait for call-outs, but will not have medical supplies at hand.
The network is designed to create a “collaborate network of superstations and response points, providing enhanced coverage across metropolitan Sydney, and a more supported and efficient, mobile paramedic workforce”.
Ambulance superstations will be located in Liverpool, Bankstown, Northmead, Kogarah, Blacktown, Penrith and Northmead, with the first stations expected to begin operations early 2017.