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Recommendations for ongoing reform of the ambulance service

08 July, 2008

NSW Minister for Health Reba Meagher has said that the findings of a review into the performance of the Ambulance Service of NSW will add to the work already underway to better utilise ambulance resources for emergency response.

Meagher said the review, conducted by Graeme Head, director of the Performance Review Unit in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, found the Ambulance Service "maintains a high standard of service against a backdrop of increasing demand".

"This review reinforces the fact that demand for ambulance services has grown significantly more than population growth over the past few years, with an 8.69 per cent increase in the number of emergency incidents since 2005-06," Meagher said.

"Importantly, the review finds that despite this increasing pressure, our ambulance service has maintained response times and continues to deliver a high standard of service to the community."

Key facts highlighted by the review include:

  • There have been significant enhancements to both Ambulance Service staffing and fleet since 2004-05
  • The Ambulance Service employs more than 3,700 staff in 291 locations across NSW
  • 89.7 per cent of staff are engaged in frontline service delivery roles such as paramedics, doctors, nurses and emergency call-takers
  • In 2006-07 the Ambulance Service provided more than one million responses
  • 40 per cent of patients transported to emergency departments were in triage categories 4 or 5
  • Overall demand for ambulance services has increased by 5.2 per cent since 2005-06
  • The number of emergency incidents has increased by 8.69 per cent
  • Compared to other Australian jurisdictions the Ambulance Service is relatively efficient.

Meagher said one of the key findings of the review was the need to look at a 'tiered' system, which separates the emergency response of the Ambulance Service from non-emergency patient transportation.

"The main function of our ambulance services are to provide emergency response for people in need of urgent care, and about 60 per cent ambulance transports are to take patients to a hospital emergency department," Meagher said.

"But the remainder are taken up with non-emergency patient transport such as transferring patients between hospitals or taking patients home after discharge from hospital, and the review makes the point that this is something we could be doing better."

Meagher said a review will be undertaken to consider options for delivering a more efficient non-emergency patient transport service.

The review will be undertaken by an independent expert and overseen by a steering committee comprising representatives from NSW Health, Ambulance Service of NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet and NSW Treasury. Consultation with stakeholders such as the Health Services Union will be an important part of the review.

Meagher said the review of non-emergency patient transport was one of 26 recommendations the NSW Government has accepted.

The Government will consider the remaining recommendation, which relates to the transfer of Ambulance Service rescue function to the NSW Fire Brigade, in consultation with the stakeholders involved before a decision is made.

The Ambulance Service of NSW is finalising a detailed implementation plan to address the review's findings, including:

  • the need for an ongoing public education campaign promoting appropriate use of ambulances
  • a review of all policies and procedures relating to complaints handling, grievance handling and bullying
  • updating the Code of Conduct to define and prohibit bullying and harassment by ambulance staff
  • the introduction of mandatory training for all supervisors and managers in better complaint handling and grievance management.

Meagher said the Iemma Government is committed to delivering a high quality ambulance service across NSW and the recommendations from this review will contribute to the ongoing reform process already underway.

"This year we are investing $340.5 million in the Ambulance Service of NSW, delivering more paramedics, more ambulance vehicles and more resources to support out ambulance paramedics in delivering important emergency health services to the community."

The Performance Review: Ambulance Service of NSW is available on the Ambulance Service of NSW website at

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