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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1081

Mr MITCHELL (9:35 PM) —Every day across Australia there are countless lives saved because of the invaluable work in the provision of out-of-hospital emergency medical services, or EMS, performed by qualified paramedics in the widest ranges of circumstances. Back in 2007-08 it was reported that ambulance officers attended some 2.88 million incidents across the states and the ACT. Ambulance Victoria alone responded to just on half a million emergency incidents, including 120,625 road incidents across regional Victoria and some 2,488 emergency air incidents.

I have spent years working closely with paramedics in Victoria and learning as part of my training to obtain first responder qualifications as part of setting up and delivering the first community emergency response team in Victoria. During my time with CERT as an active volunteer, I dealt firsthand with a wide range of medical issues such as drug overdoses, trauma and even childbirth—and I can assure you that is something I will never forget. This time exposed me to the quality and dedication of service that our paramedics deliver.

Australian paramedics deal with life-and-death situations on a daily basis, administering restricted medications and applying CPR, defibrillation, intubation and cannulation. The professional and clinical activities of paramedics are squarely focused on preserving life, preventing the escalation of illness or injury and supporting patient stability on the way to hospital. Much of the work that paramedics undertake for patients involves time-critical decisions which deal with invasive procedures such as endotracheal intubation and artificial ventilation of seriously ill patients, cardiac defibrillation, and decompression of a tension pneumothorax, running the risk of infecting those paramedics in the line of duty, as well as the administration of drugs classified under schedule 4, prescription-only drugs, or schedule 8, controlled drugs, of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. The clinical interventions performed by paramedics often are what keep patients alive until they can receive more definitive care. Every day paramedics in their roles are out there ensuring the safety, welfare and health of patients without often knowing a patient’s medical history and, in many cases, having to triage unconscious, incoherent and often rebellious patients.

What has concerned me for a long period of time is that there is no national registration and accreditation for Australian paramedics at a state or territory level. We know that the United Kingdom has had a national system of paramedic registration since 2000 and that even the United States of America is moving to a national accreditation by 2014. But Australia still does not. This means that paramedics who, for whatever reason, move interstate have to resit their exams when making their initial move and, should they at a later date wish to return to their home state, they have to resit their exams again in the state in which they already achieved their accreditation.

The other concern is the disparity in the education standards and clinical expertise that is required in different jurisdictions for one to be able to call oneself a ‘paramedic’. In some cases one can qualify as a paramedic after doing a six-week course, whereas someone working for Ambulance Victoria requires many years of full-time study. Our communities expect uniformly high standards of professionalism and clinical care from our paramedics, no matter where they live.

With this in mind I believe that we should move to national standards and accreditation to ensure that every Australian can receive high quality, professional service that will ensure the patient’s welfare is not put at stake. To do this I believe we should investigate the delivery of a national regulatory regime for paramedics which will deliver benefits in the public interest, ensure that we foster workforce mobility, which of course means workforce sustainability, and offer better support for rural and remote regions. Therefore, I seek the assistance of the Minister for Health and Ageing in encouraging her state and territory counterparts to engage in meaningful dialogue with the aim of delivering national accreditation and standards for paramedics as soon as possible.