Petition: Paramedic Resources and Recognition

Petition: Paramedic Resources and Recognition

(Petition Debate, 23 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I also thank and welcome the paramedics from the Health Services Union who join us here today in Parliament and congratulate them on the over 10,000 signature petition to call for better pay and conditions for paramedics in this State. I also acknowledge and thank the health Minister for being here for this important petition debate.

Paramedics are fundamental to the healthcare system and the response to crises and emergencies. They have unique skills and expertise to save life in highly stressful situations, stabilising people who are seriously injured or experiencing a life threatening acute medical condition before they go to hospital. They make quick decisions under very difficult circumstances.

As frontline workers, paramedics are exposed to significant risks to their own health and safety. They deal with immobile patients, alcohol and drug affected patients and motor vehicle accidents on heavily trafficked roads, for example. Australian paramedics are seven times more likely to be injured at work than other workers, and paramedics working in New South Wales suffer the highest rate of injury of all paramedics in Australia.

The dangers are not only physical, but also psychological. The traumatic scenes that paramedics are exposed to, including road accidents, domestic, family and sexual violence, fires, explosions and severely distressed loved ones, can have lifelong impacts. Post-traumatic stress disorder is at higher rates in paramedics compared with the rest of the population.

Unfortunately, paramedics in this State are not appropriately recognised for their contribution and sacrifice. Years of public sector wage caps have made them the lowest paid paramedics in the country. Queensland pays up to $23,000 more in base wage for a similar role, and a paramedic with six years' experience will take home nearly $300 a week less than a paramedic with the same experience working in the Australian Capital Territory. New South Wales is also an expensive State, particularly when it comes to housing. The cost-of-living crisis is now having a drain on paramedics, who are moving to other States and Territories where their wages better reflect their contribution and provide a better quality of life.

The Health Services Union has provided me with statements from three paramedics in New South Wales demonstrating the sheer impact low wages is having on the sector. A paramedic from Tweed Heads said:

"We have multiple trainees … leave New South Wales Ambulance to go to Queensland because we work with … [the Queensland Ambulance Service] often. Queensland often seek out our trainees who are younger … especially when they already live on the Gold Coast, the money is too good, and the transition too easy.

After recently working with a trainee for one whole day the next week she turned up to work and she said she'd been offered a role over the border and that she needed to take it, she wasn't going to hang on in New South Wales and fight for the pay rise when she already had a good paying job on offer."

A paramedic who left Queanbeyan to work in Tasmania said:

"I've been a paramedic for 16 years and the way we were treated under the Liberal Government was insulting, the year-on-year effective pay cuts were brutal, and now the gap between us and everyone else has grown so much, it's ridiculous. I felt pretty disillusioned, and I love this job. Ambulance Tasmania offered me a $40,000 pay rise, and the cost of living is much lower in Tasmania. New South Wales is one of the most expensive states to live in."

A paramedic from the Blue Mountains said:

"While the Government continues to wonder why paramedics keep leaving, all New South Wales Ambulance paramedics have long held the answer to that very simple question. Let me make it simple, why would anyone stay, if every other state in this country pays almost double for the exact same work? Most of us can't afford let alone pay rent with the rising cost of living in this state. I've had to take on another job on top of my full-time position … and have started applying for other states whose wage reflects the rising costs because that seems to be the only way to make ends meet these days."

Paramedics from New South Wales want to stay, they want to serve their local communities. But it is not an attractive option when their wages are lower than anyone else, and staying means they need to take an additional role to make ends meet. While the new Government lifted the wages cap, the gap with other States and Territories remains excessively high and we are losing a vital workforce. Without paramedics our health system would collapse. The wages paid to our paramedics need to catch up with the rest of the country so we can retain and encourage new workers, and better recognise the significant contribution that paramedics make to keeping our community safe.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!