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New Zealand Ambulance Services face a Funding Crisis

Media Statement – For Immediate Release (13/09/2016)

New Zealand Ambulance Services face a Funding Crisis

New Zealand’s two ambulance services are facing a funding crisis.

St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance have recently completed their annual fundraising drives and both still face huge budget shortfalls as government funding fails to keep up with the growing demand for paramedic care.

Sean Thompson, the Chair of the New Zealand chapter of Paramedics Australasia, the professional body representing paramedics says “New Zealand’s ambulance services and the paramedics who work for them are being stretched beyond their capabilities.”

“We have two world class ambulance services in New Zealand. The paramedics who work for them care for people in critical need and in unpredictable and highly demanding situations but paramedics are stretched by the constant and demanding workload. Our paramedics are highly professional but they are under immense stress. This stress makes it hard to consistently provide the care that they are trained to give.”

“It is extraordinary that in many areas of New Zealand critical medical decisions are made by volunteers, many of whom work alone” says Mr. Thompson. “We have an over-reliance on the goodwill of volunteer ambulance officers in New Zealand; many with just a basic level of first aid training who often also have other full time jobs.”

“This is not 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. However ambulance services operate as an emergency service and, more importantly, as a core health service, yet they are made to operate as charities and rely on the goodness of New Zealanders to stay afloat.”

A future funding review has been undertaken and will be considered by government Ministers in mid-September. “Our concern and the concern of St John and Wellington Free Ambulance is that the baseline level of government funding has been eroded from 80% a few years ago to 70% today,” says Mr. Thompson. “We are hoping for a significant increase in funding from this review but if the erosion of baseline funding is not addressed, it’s like renovating a house built on sand.”

“The Ministers need to seriously consider the risk posed to the public and the strain on paramedics under the current system. We would like to see ambulance services focus on the provision of nationally consistent world class paramedic care rather than putting their efforts into fundraising.”

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

New Zealand ambulance services receive 70% of their funding from the Ministry of Health, ACC and District Health Boards. The remaining 30% 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.

St John posted a $7.5million deficit in 2016 while Wellington Free Ambulance fell $600,000 short. “This is a deficit based on maintaining current service levels. It does not even include the funding required to ensure that ambulances are double crewed” says Mr. Thompson.

“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.”

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