Page 227 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 13 February 1991

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Discussion of Matter of Public Importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mr Berry proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The inability of the Government to address the problems in the ACT Ambulance System.

MR BERRY (3.12): It is with some reluctance that I rise to speak on this matter, because it is not good to be questioning the ability of emergency services to respond to the needs of members of the community when they are most in need of help. But that is a responsibility that the Government must wear, and it must, of course, live up to that responsibility in a way which ensures that proper services are delivered to the community. This Government has a record of not being able to do that in many respects; but, as far as this debate is concerned, I refer particularly to the area of health, specifically in relation to ambulance services.

I became concerned about the provision of ambulance services in the latter half of last year, and, in the light of the Government's failure to deliver a proper service, I raised those concerns publicly. But it was not easy for me to get information on the performance of the Ambulance Service. In fact, the Government and the health department were quite secretive about the performance of the Ambulance Service, and time after time requests were put in the Estimates Committee hearings for the provision of figures on ambulance services - and, of course, they were not provided in time for the Estimates Committee to consider and comment on them in its final report.

I suspect that that was done quite deliberately to try to hose the issue down, because the Minister and his department knew that things were not well in the Ambulance Service. In that sense, it smelt of a cover-up. I will just give you some examples which were exposed then. In the 26 days from 26 September to 22 October 1990, there were 112 requirements for overtime shifts - 25 per cent of the total shifts needed - and those overtime shifts were needed because of staff shortages. Fifty-seven of those shifts were not covered, and that means that on 57 occasions ambulance crews were short. At least one of the four ACT stations was closed on 32 occasions. Staffing levels had been down to as low as 1.5 crews. In fact, only one ambulance could be staffed properly. On 32 occasions there were three or fewer ambulances in service - and the minimum requirement, of course, in the ACT is for four ambulances to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and so on.

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