by: Susie O'Brien From: Herald Sun
UNDER-pressure paramedics are being hit with speeding fines - often for doing just a few kilometres over the limit - as they rush to jobs.
Dozens of ambulance officers a month are being fined for speeding on their way to code 2 jobs, which are urgent but not life-threatening.
Recent fines include a $146 ticket for a MICA 6 doing 65km/h in a 60 zone at 3.51am, $153 for 56km/h in a 50 zone for a code 2 case at 10.35pm, and 64km/h in a 60 zone returning from hospital.
Paramedics are demanding their bosses use discretion and waive fines for minor speeding in the course of their duties.
Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGhie said the fines reflected the mounting demands on ambulance paramedics arising from unfilled shifts, resignations and increasing demand for ambulances.
"We are very concerned about paramedics being clocked doing a few kilometres over the limit, where there is little or no discretion," he said.
"If they lose too many demerit points, they lose their licence and they need a licence to do their job."
Mr McGhie said the pressure to speed was worse now than ever before, resulting in a growing number of fines.
"There's no doubt that it's greater now than in the past because of the pressure on paramedics to get response times down and offload patients at hospitals," he said.
Ambulance officers are not issued with speeding fines when they are using lights and sirens for the most urgent, code 1, cases, but they are fined when on less serious, code 2, cases such as transporting people to hospital and overdoses.
Ambulance Employees Association figures reflect the growing pressures on paramedics in 2012 and 2011.
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Day shifts were dropped on 124 occasions, leaving ambulance stations such as Reservoir, Preston and West Melbourne with no paramedics on duty.
Night shifts were dropped on 606 occasions, leaving ambulance stations such as Brimbank, Caulfield, Pakenham and Springvale with no paramedics on duty.
Freedom of Information documents obtained by the AEA also show code 1 response times - which are meant to be 15 minutes - have blown out to 21 minutes in Beaconsfield, 21 minutes in Craigieburn, 21 minutes in Narre Warren, and 25 minutes in Sunbury.
In country areas code 1 response times have blown out, including 45 minutes in Dimboola, Mallacoota and Edenhope and 42 in Charlton and Avoca.
"Crews are also being kept longer at hospitals, and unfilled shifts mean people are having to travel a lot further to get to cases," Mr McGhie said.
"In my view morale is the lowest it has ever been in the 31 years I have been in this industry," he said.
Tony Walker, general manager, Regional Services of Ambulance Victoria, said that in non-emergency cases where lights and sirens were not required, paramedics were "expected to adhere to the speed limit like all other road users".
He said 272 traffic infringement notices were received by Ambulance Victoria each month, but 90 per cent are ambulances driving under lights and sirens, for which fines are waived.
Victorian Health Minister David Davis said the Government was investing $151 million to recruit 340 additional ambulance staff and $16 million to build more ambulance stations.