One for road and call me an ambulance

CHELSEA ARMITAGE
Last updated 05:00 09/08/2014

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Drunk off-duty St John Ambulance staff are getting a free ride home in on-duty ambulances, according to a former Waikato ambulance driver.

The former officer, who the Waikato Times agreed not to name, spoke out after St John suspended two senior Canterbury managers in July over claims they used an ambulance vehicle to taxi them home after a boozy night out.

The former officer says the practice is widespread throughout the country and has been for years, particularly on weekends and "boozy nights".

"If they're on the booze one night, they'll text their mate who happens to be working a night shift to go and pick them up," the former officer said.

Staff taxi rides usually occurred only on the understanding the passenger was "turfed out" if a job came up.

But the practice was not followed in at least one case where a life was at risk, the whistleblower said.

On this occasion, the driver was "hailed" by a senior staffer and partner on Victoria St, Hamilton.

The pair sat on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance while it travelled away from Hamilton CBD towards their home.

"During the trip our MDT [mobile data terminal] flashed up with a priority one job, which is immediate response with lights and sirens."

The call was for a child with respiratory distress who was under the care of Anglesea Clinic, a minute away from where the senior staff member was picked up.

"I went to pull over . . . then looked at the [senior staff member] who said, ‘Take me home'."

The officer drove up to 2km in the opposite direction of the clinic, dropped the pair home and returned to the CBD with lights and siren.

The staff member "was someone you would find quite intimidating and you wouldn't really want to piss off for fear of repercussions," said the former driver.

"They're putting their own people above the safety of the patients."

The officer didn't speak out at the time due to what he called a "culture of fear for speaking out" in the organisation.

"It's certainly my opinion - of the Waikato St John in particular - that it is just a boy's club. Management-wise it's a boy's club with a toxic culture."

The whistleblower's claims about free rides for staff are backed by a series of posts to a members-only page on social networking site Facebook from St John staff up and down the country, in relation to the Canterbury incident.

"Gee . . . now how do we explain to the public - we actually give a damn about our colleagues, we want to see them home safe and at work on their next shift."

Another responded: "We do it for complete strangers, why wouldn't we do it for our colleagues. The crime would be if we didn't do it."

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A third Facebook post said: "My how things have changed, there was a time not so long ago when you looked after your colleagues no matter which service or what shoulder flash or shirt colour they wore, or, weather you liked that individual or not . . . next time call the boys in blue we d get ya home no worries and no squealing to the powers that be."

Another staffer, in another Facebook response, said: "So peeps think it's appropriate to call an ambulance for man flu, blocked noses and a sore toe . . . but looking after the team and driving their drunk bums home so that they are safe is not on.

"Maybe next time the staff can call under a26Alpha code and legitimately be transported somewhere. God only know how many drunk MOP (members of the public) we have all assisted to a local house for safety's sake, yet we can't look after our own.

"A classic example of how camaraderie [sic] has been lost in this organisation - generation y at work again by the sounds of it. When I we started it would have been a kick in the arse behind the garage . . . for dobbing on someone!" said a St John territory manager.

"The only problem is loose lips," another said.

St John Waikato District Operations Manager Stuart Cockburn said he was unaware of any incidents of of operational vehicles being used by ambulance staff for personal use and could not investigate without more information about specific incidents.

Cockburn said there was no culture of fear over speaking out in the organisation.

"If these allegations are factual, we encourage them to come forward and provide information so we can investigate."

He said some of the more specific events raised on the Facebook page appeared to relate to alleged incidents over 10 years ago.

The whistleblower said St John was making an example of the suspended Christchurch officers which was "crazily hypocritical".

"It's not an isolated incident, it's something that happens everywhere. If the public are upset this happened in Christchurch, they really need to see the wider picture."

*Chelsea Armitage is an AUT communications student.

- Waikato Times

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