Less than two weeks since the horrific terror attacks in Christchurch, St John has had to withdraw an appeal asking for donations they claim will go towards the paramedics who were the first respondents to the attacks.
FIRST Union’s National Ambulance Coordinator, Sarah Stone, says she has received hundreds of complaints by staff, including an open letter address to the Prime Minister written by one of the first paramedics to enter the mosque after the attacks.
Ms Stone says instead of St John listening to its staff it’s trying to maximise capital from a horrific event.
“Staff are really angry that St John has used this catastrophe, and their hard work during it, to ask for more money from the community through advertising on its website. It implied the money would go to ambulance officers when none of these donations are earmarked for ambulance officers and staff are fighting for decent pay. We believe there were also radio ads so St John cannot say this was a small issue that they didn’t ok. According to our members they even used such phrases as, ‘You don’t have to wear a St John uniform to be a hero’ (one of the strike actions) and apparently used images of ambulance officers’ chalk writing on vans stating, ‘kia kaha Christchurch’, to help sell their cause, a strike action that members have received a lot of flak from management for. To use an event such as Christchurch to leverage more money from the community when it should be listening to its workers and securing more funding directly earmarked for staff only ...it just beggars belief. St John is majority funded by Government yet its workers have to strike just about every time their contract is up for renewal. Meanwhile, there are vans sitting empty in stations around the country because of the massive staffing shortage. At what point will St John realise that it needs to listen to its workers over continually trying to make this a non-government enterprise. Frontline paramedics are an essential service to any healthy society. As one member puts it, the public deserve better than what they’re getting.’”
St John has been served over 20 partial strike actions as ambulance officers fight for shift recognition and decent pay. The partial strike actions include commercial event bans, graffiti on vans and stations and the non-invoicing of patients of which St John is now saying will cost them an extra two million dollars over this financial year.
Ms Stone says staff have been very respectful over the last couple of weeks, choosing to wear their uniforms in Christchurch and replacing campaign slogans written on their ambulances with solidarity messages for the victims of the Christchurch attack.
To the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister and Hon Members of Parliament.
Dear Prime Minister and Ministers,
This is an open letter to you the government and the people of New Zealand in regard to the state of the Ambulance Service in this country.
Firstly I would like to express my and my colleagues’ deepest sympathies and condolences to all the friends, families and communities of those slain and also our thanks and overwhelming admiration for your response to the recent terrorist attacks in Christchurch on March 15th 2019.
The compassion, humanity and leadership shown by our Government and demonstrated by our Prime Minister have been incredible and I believe has helped unite this country when others would try to divide us.
I am writing this letter on behalf of myself and a large number of my colleagues who dedicate ourselves to the care of others.
My name is Dean Brown and I have been a Paramedic with St John for the past twenty three years in Christchurch; the first nine of those years as a volunteer and the past nearly ten years as an Intensive Care Paramedic.
On March 15th I was one of two medics that entered the Al Noor Mosque in Deans Ave directly after the shootings with heavily armed Police protecting us to triage and then extricate survivors from this site along with several of my colleagues.
I cannot speak highly enough of the police, frontline, AOS and STG who we worked alongside and who protected us while we performed out jobs and also who treated patients at the Linwood Ave Mosque prior to an ambulance response occurring.
Also all the ambulance crews and staff from all areas who worked that day and responded to the terrorist attacks.
This letter is written to you to express our deep concerns and anger at how one of three core emergency services is run in New Zealand.
As you will be aware both the Police and Fire Emergency New Zealand are fully funded and regulated by the Government whereas the ambulance service is run by St John which is a charity.
This charity is currently funded by the Government to approximately 75% and the rest is covered by fundraising and donations.
St John is currently looking to get 100% funding from the Government which we do not believe will rectify the current issues.
This method of funding has led to substantial issues within the service which have been highlighted by the fact that a majority of frontline and communication centre ambulance staff are currently taking a number of strike actions due to the breakdown of contract negotiations with St John as we have been told for years there is no money.
The ambulance service has run at a multimillion dollar loss for decades to the detriment of services to the public.
For most other business’s this would mean insolvency but due to the nature of the service provided it limps on.
While St John has many areas to its business the emergency ambulance operations is just one.
The lack of funding and support for the public was highlighted to me and many of my colleagues when we saw the below advertisement using the tragedy of March 15th to raise funds for the service.
Due to an overwhelming response from staff that believed that this ad showed a complete lack of respect for the slain and their families it has since been removed.
Our plea to you is to have the ambulance service in New Zealand which is in crisis be nationalised and run by the Government the same as Police and FENZ.
You do not ever see Police and FENZ going to such levels to get funding.
The public deserve a first class ambulance service provided by the Government and not by a charity.
We have been told by St John that due to the current strike action they are looking at a much bigger deficit which will mean even more reduction in services.
The staff, both volunteer and paid, have a very real passion to serve their communities and we look to serve others but we are at crisis point and the public and communities of New Zealand deserve better.
Dean Brown - Intensive Care Paramedic