REGIONAL paramedics are set to benefit from a move to curb understaffing and long periods behind the wheel following findings handed down by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this month.
The IRC recommendations wrap up a three-year disputation around what witness statements deemed NSW Ambulance's reluctance to roster overtime hours and drop staff from core rosters without replacement.
In a statement from the Australian Paramedics Association NSW Secretary Gary Wilson given during IRC hearings, he outlined the "relentless increase in demand" for paramedics without "adequate additional staffing".
"This greatly reduces the opportunity for downtime and debriefing between jobs, reduces the opportunity to take crib/meal breaks, and increases the risk of excessive extension of shift overtime," he said.
For the state overall, NSW will see guaranteed ambulance coverage increase by as much as 25 per cent by mid-July.
APA NSW President Chris Kastelan said the "landmark decision" will meet both community demand and uphold paramedics' safety and wellbeing.
"We took this fight to the IRC because existing practices at NSW Ambulance were blatantly unsafe, with communities often being left without adequate coverage, and paramedics being asked to pick up the slack by working overtime and missing meal breaks," he said.
"Our members have fought hard for years to see reform enacted, and we're relieved the IRC has made the Recommendation sought by APA NSW."
For the Murrumbidgee zone, in south west NSW, the recommendation to enforce a minimum core staffing level at each station rather than for the zone as whole has meant as many as four additional vehicles are guaranteed in action per day as of May 22.
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Tumut paramedic and APA union delegate John Larter, based in the NSW Riverina, said he "welcomed the recommendations", with the most beneficial change being a limit on driving time.
As recommended by the IRC, NSWA will still be able to send paramedics from a station in excess of their minimum staffing requirements to one in need of extra staff, but now only if it is within an hour's driving distance.
"I did a shift from Tumut last week where I had to take a patient from Tumut Hospital, go across to Gundagai, then take another to Wagga where I also picked up a patient to take back to Tumut, and then still had to go back in to Wagga again," Mr Larter said.
"All the while, if we're already short-staffed, that means emergencies in our own community are being left unattended or with longer wait times."
With the hour limit now enforced, Wagga Wagga paramedics in NSW's Riverina will only be allowed to travel to towns as far as Coolamon, Holbrook, Junee, Lockhart and Temora, with individual discretion to be exercised for other areas like Narrandera which border on the one hour distance.
Mr Larter said he hopes the change would mean a reduced pressure in facing those in the community who may have gone without prompt local support.
"The difficulty of living in regional locations like Tumut is that you see people out and about at, say, Coles, and you become a part of that community, so you do feel incredibly guilty if you haven't been able to be there when someone in that community needs you," he said.
NSWA will implement the change in staggered stages across the state between May 22 and July 16.