St John’s cost-cutting measures putting people at risk: assoc

Hato Hone St John’s cost-cutting measures to manage its $5.5 million deficit were unacceptable and putting Southland people at risk, Ambulance Association secretary Mark Quin says.

He hoped the government would announce a full funding package, which he believed St John had requested.

"I don’t think they’re in a position where they’re going to afford to retain their autonomy."

He believed the organisation’s financial woes started after it lost its major sponsorship, and the move for people to train in a self-funding tertiary education degree contributed to staffing shortages.

Public funding had also dried up post-Covid, impacted by inflation, which caused people to reconsider where donations were made.

Mr Quin claimed paramedics from Taranaki and Southland had told him some ambulances were unmanned at the weekend because of staff shortages — leaving patients waiting up to six hours for an ambulance.

But St John deputy chief executive Dan Ohs claimed the workforce was the strongest it had ever been and the organisation was choosing to manage costs now during a low-demand period to provide more cover during winter.

"Over the past year we’ve made great strides in boosting the number of frontline staff by training almost 300 new ambulance officers locally, while also [recruiting] experienced personnel from overseas."

Yesterday, St John advertised an Invercargill-based permanent fulltime paramedic position on its website.

It was also attempting to fill short-term roster gaps with available personnel.

"The number of overtime shifts being offered has grown recently, and this focus will ensure we are using our available resources effectively and efficiently.

"We do not anticipate the cost savings to have a material impact on the quality of patient care. However, it is possible that some low acuity patients may have to wait longer for an ambulance."

However, Mr Quin said staff who were normally happy to do an additional shift at penal rates were turning them down.

He acknowledged it had been a struggle to fill gaps in rosters which put more pressure on staff.

Recruitment attempts had been made nationally and internationally.

Working off data was not always an accurate assessment of a situation or location, as it often did not reflect the time put into a callout, which could be a vital detail for rural staff.

Every ambulance should have two fulltime staff manning it at all times.

If staff were being paid overtime rates, there was finance available to pay additional staff, he said.

New Zealand First list MP for Taieri Mark Patterson said supporting frontline services was part of the coalition agreement and associate health minister Casey Costello was actively engaged in discussions with St John to deliver more funding to the frontline.

He accepted many in the general community were facing financial pressure, but encouraged people who could to help the organisation with time or funds.

"It’s up to all of us to do our bit and not take it for granted."

He was unable to comment on any incentivised training options.

"But we wouldn’t want to be putting unnecessary roadblocks in the way of people so that we’ve got a functioning emergency service."

By Toni McDonald and RNZ