St John 'corporate model' criticised

St John Ambulance at Dunedin Accident and Emergency Department. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
St John Ambulance at Dunedin Accident and Emergency Department. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

St John has enough money to fund another staff member in Dunedin, a former St John paramedic says.

Paramedical Consultancy director Graham Roper, of Dunedin, contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday with concerns about a single-crewed ambulance serving the community.

His concerns come after it was revealed, in a leaked staff memorandum to the ODT, that St John would run a single-crewed ambulance in Dunedin, which would affect response times and could put staff at risk.

Mr Roper believed St John had money to employ extra staff and a "corporate model'' being followed by hierarchy was detrimental to the community and St John staff.

"St John have got more than enough money to provide a better service than they are currently providing,'' Mr Roper said.

"I think it's a lack of focus on the core business, responding to emergency calls.

"The first thing they need to do is unravel themselves from this corporate model.''

Money was being spent on reform and unnecessary or inadequate upgrades, he said.

That included spending more than $100,000 on new ambulances when one could be sourced for about $70,000 in Australia and upgrading ambulances to a new colour.

Staff uniforms had also been upgraded but were not adequate for night jobs, Mr Roper said.

Money was not being allocated to the right places, he said.

Formerly a 12-year St John paramedic in Auckland and Canterbury and an ambulance educator at the Auckland University of Technology, Mr Roper said he heard "dissatisfaction'' from staff regularly.

"There's a whole raft of underlying issues creating problems.''

All the reforms of the last decade or so had just been costing money and not improving the service.

Volunteers were also being short-changed, Mr Roper said.

They were being left to "hold up one end'' by doing more than what was in their job description with less support.

"Something needs to change. Somebody needs to drive that change.''

A Dunedin St John volunteer, "at the centre of it'' and who did not want to be named, said St John had been "single-crewing for years''.

"If someone rings in sick, instead of paying another person, they will run a single crew,'' the volunteer of more than 20 years said.

They were "manipulating volunteers'' to suit themselves and "played on people's heartstrings'' to make it look like everything was running smoothly, the volunteer said.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said she was "deeply concerned'' patients and the ambulance service in Dunedin were compromised and was worried it could lead to a fatality.

If a single ambulance officer arrived and were not able to do their job, it could lead to retribution from "angry'' members of the public, she also said.

"When there is a cutback, people in the community need to know.''

The Amalgamated Workers Union released a statement yesterday saying single-crewing and the utilisation of volunteers were "ongoing issues'' in Dunedin and throughout New Zealand.

Secretary Calvin Fisher said single-crewing was "unacceptable'' and the service in Dunedin was stretched.

St John chief executive Peter Bradley did not respond yesterday and Coastal Otago area manager Doug Third was unavailable for comment.

A St John spokesman said it was not St John's practice to comment on non-specific assertions from unknown sources but it was "committed to stopping single crewing'' by 2018.

St John was awaiting the outcome of a funding review, he said.

"St John strives to deliver the best possible value for money as part of being accountable for the donations, taxpayer funding and volunteer hours we receive,'' he said.

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter