More hands on deck

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Double crew...Gore St John paramedic Aimee Morison, station manager David Bone, Hokonui territory manager Jan Douglas, Gore St John first responder Vicki Kelly are excited with the news the Gore One ambulance will have two paid staff members on at a time providing coverage for 24 hours a day. PHOTO:SANDY EGGLESTON

Gore’s primary St John ambulance is expected to be double-crewed by the end of this year.

In 2017 the then-National government announced in its Budget $59million would be invested in ambulance services so that all emergency road ambulance callouts would be double-crewed by 2021.

St John Hokonui territory manager Jan Douglas said it was proposed the station’s Gore One ambulance would be double-crewed around the clock with paid staff.

“We are going to be employing three new full-time ambulance staff,” Mrs Douglas said.

“It’s great for the community and it shows the commitment from St John to Gore.”

There would be two paid staff on duty at all times, working 12-hour shifts.

It was expected the changes would be implemented by December.

The station had also received a new Volkswagen first-response vehicle.

“It’s got all the equipment of an ambulance but the idea is it remains closer to Gore.

“This is the first brand new vehicle we’ve had.”

Volunteers would crew the first-response vehicle, and more people were needed.

“They need to be physically fit [and] they need to be able to commit to trainings.”

Often people started working for St John as volunteers and then became part of the paid staff, Mrs Douglas said.

“Eighty percent of paid staff come from volunteers.”

The first-response volunteers would be able to carry on with their lives as usual but would be called out in much the same way as volunteer firefighters were.

“They won’t have to sit on-station for 12 hours a day but they absolutely are allowed to if they want to.

“They will have pagers.”

Once people started volunteering for St John, often their involvement increased, she said.

“It’s like a bug. They want to keep doing it.”

There was a strong sense of community at the Gore station, she said.

“The Gore station has a rich and special culture because of the people.

“People look after each other.”

St John double-crewing project lead Andrew Mumford said about four years ago it was recognised it was not good for patients or staff for ambulances to be crewed with one person.

“You can’t be both driving an ambulance and treating a patient in the back at the same time and it is not a good thing for our staff member in terms of fatigue management, in terms of manual handling trying to move people around and then obviously there’s some risk based things where it helps to have two sets of eyes,” Mr Mumford said.

The double-crewing project started about three and a-half years ago in the areas which had the highest level of single crewing.

“We’re now in the fourth year of working with places that have relatively high levels of volunteering.”

Gore had good numbers of volunteers who helped staff the ambulance, particularly at night, but not enough that the ambulance could be consistently double-crewed.

“We need to add staff and we’re adding staff to crew that Gore vehicle at night time.”

Despite the positive response from Gore, the initiative has not been as well received elsewhere.

In neighbouring Clutha, concerned St John supporters gathered more than 3500 signatures for a petition opposing double-crewing for the Balclutha station, after it was learned the project could lead to a downgrade for Milton.

On September 15, St John announced Milton would move to a volunteer-led first response unit capability from December, and lose its sole paid paramedic.