Ambulance staff to be boosted

23:01, Jul 01 2014
St John ambulance
BUSY SEASON: Shift supervisor Helen Bickers, in vehicle, helps paramedic Mark Pearce and fellow crew member Jenni Austin shift gear between ambulances.

Overworked St John volunteers will get a welcome reprieve from a boost in Canterbury paramedics.

The new recruits will be on hand in time for the organisation's busiest time of the year - and a flu season that has already caused a spike in callouts.

St John is recruiting 15 paramedics, bolstering the number of positions in Canterbury by 15 per cent.

The positions will be used to reinforce staff numbers in rural Canterbury - primarily where population shifts have meant an increase in callouts and stretched resources.

St John Canterbury operations manager Pete Cain said demand profiling throughout New Zealand had identified Canterbury as "short of some staff". A higher workload had been placed on volunteers.

"Volunteers were expected to work extremely hard, and that also meant we struggled to get volunteer staff to fill the seats," he said.


Nationally, St John expects this month and next to be two of the busiest months it has experienced.

In Canterbury, the increase is not expected to be as significant - largely due to initiatives in place in Canterbury yet to be rolled out to the rest of the country.

"Traditionally June, July and August are the busiest months," Cain said.

"This year we've had an increase in flu cases earlier on in the season which has left our numbers for June above what we predicted - but we're not expecting the massive increases some areas are seeing."

Last year, St John received 9087 calls over July and August. This year, they expect to receive 9339 over the same period.

Friday and Saturday nights remained St John's busiest times alongside Saturday afternoons during winter sport season.

Cain said there had been "significant areas of growth" in callouts in places including Rolleston and Amberley due to population shift.

The new paramedic positions would go to Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Rolleston and some into Christchurch - to support the growing population, and deal with short-staffing.

The average response time had also "returned to normal" after it increased following the earthquakes and road closures. Cain said there were still "challenges when a route is no longer available to us", but crews had good communication with roading people who give them access "where they can".

Canterbury's "transport rate" - the number of people transported to hospital following a callout - was lower than the national average, due to two pilot programmes.

A trial in Canterbury and Auckland allows medical staff to assess 111 callers over the phone and refer them to GPs or district nurses if their problem is not life-threatening.

Single-crewed vehicles were also introduced in the same centres last year, to cater to callers unlikely to need transport to hospital.

The Press