16 Sep 2008

Plan to allow paramedics to treat patients

4:44 pm on 16 September 2008

Paramedics would become emergency care practitioners treating patients at the scene if proposed changes to the ambulance service are adopted.

A consultation proposal released by Ministry of Health outlines a strategy designed to lower emergency ambulance use and free up congested casualty wards.

It follows a parliamentary select committee report that called for full funding of ambulance services and double crewing of vehicles in urban areas.

Under current protocol, paramedics are trained only in pre-hospital emergency care, but not diagnosis and assessment.

The chief executive of Wellington Free Ambulance, John Britton, told Morning Report on Tuesday that under the plan paramedics would have new powers.

He says paramedics would need further training and to have a post-graduate qualification.

Wellington Free Ambulance says improving services could save 70% of the region's patients from an unnecessary hospital visit.

Mr Britton says a similar model has been successfully adopted in the United Kingdom and the first emergency care practitioner is due to arrive shortly to take part in a trial.

Health Minister David Cunliffe says a significant number of calls to ambulance services can be dealt with by treating patients at home. He says extending the role of paramedics will give services greater flexibility and reduce pressure on hospital emergency departments.

St John's Ambulance says it is in favour of the proposal for it to run more in-home non-emergency services.

Chief executive Jaimes Wood says he would like to extend services to include mobile vaccination programmes and health checks, and welcomes extra training for staff.

The Government wants public feedback on the strategy, which also explores options for integrating funding from ACC and the Health Ministry.

Call to nationalise services

The National Distribution Union says the Government should consider nationalising ambulance services.

A spokesperson, Craig Page, says ministry's proposal is a broadly positive document but fails to address the bigger picture.

He says other areas needing review include single crewing of ambulances and services to rural communities.