Motions:  Regional Ambulance Services

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Published Thursday, October 19, 2017 | Share:

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:30): I move:

That this house calls on the government to strengthen ambulance services in regional South Australia and to recognise—

(a) the poorer health status of South Australians in regional South Australia;

(b) the shortage of volunteers to maintain ambulance services in regional South Australia; and

(c) the additional cost for ambulance services that is borne by people living in regional South Australia.

Having grown up in regional South Australia, I am well aware of the struggles facing people living in these regions. Every Australian has a right to access quality healthcare services. However, for people living in rural, remote and regional South Australia, timely access to the services they need and/or desire may not always be possible because of distance, transportation issues and service availability. This means that many of the 380,000 people living in regional South Australia may have unmet healthcare needs and this leads to poorer health outcomes.

Recent headlines put the spotlight on Yorketown and Quorn, but it was not long ago that it was Port Augusta and Mount Gambier. These hospitals join a long list, from Kingston and its leaky roof to the plight of Hawker's solo GP. South Australia's rural population contains some of the most poorest and most disadvantaged in the country. Accessing even basic health services is a challenge for many.

More recent issues, such as increasing needs for mental health, disability, adolescence and child health services, are poorly developed and supported. The feeling outside metropolitan Adelaide is of relentless and mindless cost saving to finance the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. It staggered me to understand that the new Royal Adelaide Hospital's art budget was over $2 million when in Mount Gambier we are crying out for a renal dialysis upgrade of just $1 million.

But we are here today to talk specifically about ambulances and ambulance cover. I want to commend the many volunteers and professionals with the South Australian Ambulance Service who have more than 1,100 career staff and more than 1,500 volunteers. There are 111 ambulance stations and 80 volunteer teams throughout the state. In the 2014 financial year, SA Ambulance Service responded to more than 265,000 incidents and answered 184,000 triple zero calls. That is one call every 2.85 seconds.

SA Ambulance Service has a fleet of 417 vehicles, including 253 traditional stretcher-carrying vehicles. It has access to aircraft from the state rescue helicopter and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which in the South-East is a very welcome addition, with flights occurring daily from Mount Gambier to Adelaide transporting some of our most vulnerable and at-need patients when specialty services are not available down there. Ambulance stations in South Australian regional areas are largely staffed by volunteers, with 80 volunteer teams across 18 regional team leader areas and six operational management regions. There are 22 regional career ambulance stations staffed by paid paramedics across the state. Volunteer ambulance officers and paid paramedics frequently work together on cases as required.

This year, the number of operational volunteers increased by 32 people and the number of new volunteer recruits remains relatively stable at 281. All in all, the Ambulance Service—and I can speak specifically of the South-East—does an amazing job, in both a paid professional capacity and a volunteer capacity. I think it is the volunteers who certainly carry a fair load, particularly in more remote or perhaps regional areas of the state and particularly the South-East, like Penola, Robe and Kingston, where the first response is from a trained volunteer and then backed up with paid paramedics when they can get there normally, obviously with distance, some time later.

Quite interestingly, when I was talking to our local ambulance officers, who are very proud of the work they do, about their facilities, particularly in Mount Gambier, they rate them very highly. In fact, demand is growing so strongly that the vacant block of land across from the ambulance station will be tagged for an expansion that is coming up soon. In the South-East, 75 per cent of the work that is done is with elderly patients, and with the boom in retirement villages in the South-East, particularly Mount Gambier, that workload is only set to increase. One of the officers said, 'Years ago, we used to have busy nights—now every night is busy,' such is the workload.

If there is one area both sides of government need to focus on it is training and retaining volunteers to make sure that we have a continual, highly trained team of volunteers ready to be first responders in those outer lying areas. That is one area where we do need to continually invest money going forward, recognising that volunteers do contribute heavily to keeping our community safe. Another area that needs to be looked at is the cost of ambulance cover. We used to have South Australian ambulance cover that would cover all of Australia; now your ambulance cover is for South Australia only, unless you opt in for interstate coverage.

I compared the cost of cover in South Australia and Victoria, and people will know that Mount Gambier is very close to the border. Family ambulance cover in South Australia is $161, plus $30 if you want interstate cover, so nearly $200 for a family with interstate cover. The same family cover in Victoria is $92, so it is half the price. If you live in any of these postcodes—5290, which is Mount Gambier; 5291, which is Mount Gambier East or West; or 5262, which is Frances—the Victorian government will allow you to have Victorian cover, which obviously covers interstate as well. It is quite amazing that nearly every second person I talk to in Mount Gambier has Victorian ambulance cover because it covers you Australia-wide and it is half the price compared with South Australia's cover.

There are some areas that will need continual attention. The cost of ambulance cover needs to be reduced and brought down to a more manageable level, and the time and effort put into volunteers and upgrading those facilities needs continual work. With those words, I will conclude my comments.