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Ambulance funding announcement a good first step, not enough

“Ambulance funding announcement a good first step, but not enough” – 16th May, 2017

The professional body representing paramedics in New Zealand congratulates the government on making a first step towards full funding of ambulance services with its announcement to fund St John an additional $59.2 million dollars to achieve double crewing by 2021.

Sean Thompson, Chair of Paramedics Australasia (NZ) says “New Zealand’s two ambulance services have been underfunded by central government for many years. The baseline of government funding was around 80% several years ago. This has been eroded to 70% but the recent announcement brings funding back to around 73% of the full operating budget.”

“We are still a long way from the first world ambulance service New Zealanders deserve. Police are fully funded as an emergency service. GPs and emergency departments are fully funded as health services. Ambulance services operate as an emergency service and, more importantly, as a core health service yet they must operate as charities and rely on the donations of New Zealanders to stay afloat.”

New Zealand has two world class ambulance services: St John and Wellington Free Ambulance. The paramedics working for them provide care to people in critical need and in unpredictable and highly demanding situations.

“We are pleased to see a commitment to achieve double crewing by 2021 and this will help address some of the safety issues concerning staff. However we believe our ambulances should be double crewed with qualified medically trained staff. Paramedics make critical medical decisions and the support and peer review with a qualified colleague is critical” says Mr. Thompson.

“We are also seeing talented New Zealand paramedic degree graduates heading to the United Kingdom for work due to a lack of appropriate degree level positions here. With a little additional funding we could ensure double crewing with degree qualified staff. We are worried that degree graduates will be forced into Emergency Medical Assistant roles where they will not be allowed to use the skills gained in their degree, nor paid at an appropriate level for a degree graduate”.

“Paramedics Australasia understands New Zealand’s constrained financial environment” says Mr. Thompson, “but if essential emergency and community medical care is not a funding priority, then what is?”

“We have real concerns about the model of ambulance care in New Zealand. We have a core medical provider, staffed by highly trained paramedics, operated as a charity. We would not expect our hospitals or the police to operate in this way but this is the system we provide for New Zealanders who are the most critically unwell.”

New Zealand ambulance services receive 73% of their funding from the Ministry of Health, ACC and District Health Boards. The remainder is funded by commercial interests and public donations. St John passes on a part charge of $98 to medical patients while Wellington Free Ambulance does not charge patients for medical care. Wellington Free Ambulance does currently double crew its ambulances. Paramedics Australasia is unclear what additional funding they may receive with this funding announcement.


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