NSW Ambulance is the emergency-service agency that has the worst record for bullying, an inquiry by the NSW Parliament Upper House has found.
The inquiry’s report, published on July 24, about bullying, harassment and discrimination in emergency services agencies reveals 29 per cent of paramedics and NSW Ambulance staff have experienced bullying and 34 per cent have witnessed bullying.
The rate of NSW RFS staff experiencing bullying was 27 per cent for 2017 – the second highest among the agencies.
The public sector average in 2017 was 18 per cent.
The report also notes that an Australian Paramedics Association NSW survey of members found 70 per cent of paramedics had experienced bullying, mostly by senior managers and supervisors.
Of those who submitted to the inquiry was John Larter, a Riverina paramedic APA zone liaison officer in Tumut, who has criticised NSW Ambulance in the past about staffing issues in rural areas.
In his submission, he cited 11 factors he said were of concern.
These include “repeated failure” of management to follow policy and procedure, poor communication, failure to consult with staff directly or via union representation and “staff development appears to be inequitable and at best poorly managed”.
Mr Larter said that while he believed the chief executive, Dominic Morgan, wanted to make changes, it was difficult to change an issue “that’s been going on for a while”.
“It’s an entrenched culture in senior management and until we have real change at the top, it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of funding, I see it as a willingness issue.”
It’s an entrenched culture in senior management and until we have real change at the top, it’s going to be very difficult.John Larter, Riverina paramedic
The inquiry also found that despite NSW Ambulance having the highest bullying rates in 2017, it also recorded the biggest decline in bullying rates (since 2012) among the five emergency services agencies: down 13 percentage points from 42 per cent.
NSW Ambulance responds
A spokesperson for NSW Ambulance said the agency welcomed the report and will consider its recommendations.
NSW Ambulance acting chief executive David Dutton said the focus of the organisation was on mental health and well-being support and protection against occupational violence for paramedics and staff across the state.
“NSW Ambulance chief executive Dominic Morgan publicly acknowledged the failures of the past in the last month and is committed to moving forward with some real reforms to support staff right across this organisation,” Mr Dutton said.
Last month, Mr Morgan made a public statement supporting new reforms across the organisation.
“As the head of this organisation, I acknowledge we have let people down,” Mr Morgan said.
“We need to go forward with a new way of thinking about how we support each other.
“Harassment and bullying will not be tolerated and I want paramedics right across the network to feel they have a platform to support them through workplace disputes without fear of reprisal or repercussion.”
Mr Dutton said the new initiatives will be established as part of nearly $30 million worth of health and well-being programs, which includes one–on-one mental health training.
APA NSW secretary Steve Pearce said the report shows the “inability of NSW Ambulance to properly manage its bullying culture”.
“We welcome the committee’s recommendations and we call on the NSW Government to take urgent action to stamp out this insidious culture that has existed unaddressed within NSW Ambulance for decades,” he said.
Mr Pearce said there has been an appalling lack of action since the Parliamentary Committee took its evidence last year with the promised Health and Well-being systems caught up in committees and NSW Health imposing conditions that cause unnecessary delays.
“We want patients and paramedics to be safe but currently patient care is being hampered by a complaints management system that make things worse,” he said.
“Fewer paramedics on the road equals unacceptable delays for patients.”
NSW Ambulance has been contacted for comments.
Meanwhile, president of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association Mick Holton said that the report confirmed what many NSW RFS volunteers had known for a long: “that bullying, harassment and abuse of power is occurring in the RFS.”
“We are pleased to continue to lead and to participate in efforts to support volunteers who have suffered bullying and harassment in the RFS and will continue to challenge and call out this unacceptable behaviour,” Mr Holton said.
The VFFA has called on the NSW Government and the RFS to adopt all 27 recommendations of the report.
- More about the inquiry at Parliament of NSW.