Students fill in for paramedics due to financial cutbacks
UNIVERSITY students have been forced to fill in for Sunshine Coast paramedics due to financial cutbacks, potentially putting patients' lives at risk.
On Saturday night, trainee paramedics from the University of the Sunshine Coast were asked to man crews out of the Coolum and Maroochydore stations, according to the United Voice Union.
Student paramedics are not allowed to practise on patients and it is unknown if those involved had undergone advanced driver training.
The union described the situation as "fraught with danger" and unfair on patients, paramedics and students.
The students were asked to cover after two officers could not fill their shifts due to illness.
United Voice state councillor Mark Denham said it was the first time he had witnessed the practise on the Coast.
He said the stations were being forced to use student paramedics because of a perfect storm of staff cutbacks and low morale, putting the blame squarely at the feet of Premier Campbell Newman.
"The students have no authority to practise and have to be directed by a paramedic," Mr Denham said.
"If they turn up to a job and there are more than one patient, (the senior paramedic) has to run between patients, give the less serious patient to the student paramedic and the officer takes the more serious patient.
"The problem is they've got theoretical training and very little hands-on training.
"Their role in the ambulance is that they're supposed to observe and learn, not to be a replacement for a qualified paramedic.
"They're potentially putting lives at risk.
"It's fraught with danger. It's management gone mad."
Queensland Ambulance Service Sunshine Coast assistant commissioner Chris Broomfield said the crews were categorised as "single response unit" and were supposed to receive immediate back-up from neighbouring stations.
However it is known the Coolum crew performed at least one patient transport during which it did not receive that back-up.
It is also against regulations for student officers to operate in a crew with just one senior paramedic.
It is unclear how many years of study the student paramedics had completed, however guidelines state their roles are to be strictly ride-along and for training purposes.
The Queensland Ambulance Service has an agreement with the University of the Sunshine Coast that student paramedics are to only act as observers.
Qualified paramedics must undergo a week-long driver training course in order to gain accreditation and take part in on-going reviews.
The union said many student paramedics were still on their P-plates and not prepared to operate ambulances in emergency situations.
Mr Denham said the Queensland government had directed Sunshine Coast stations to slash costs and cut down on staff levels.
He said morale amongst Coast ambulances officers was at an all-time low.
"They don't have adequate staff because they're so disheartened, they just do their shift and go home," he said.
"Gone are the days when ambulance officers lived for the job.
"I've been doing this for 26 years. And there have been times when I've been in the middle of nowhere and they've asked me to do a shift and I've said 'yeah, no problem'. Those days are over."