A NSW Ambulance bid to increase recruitment to create better service delivery is one step closer to reality after a recent state Industrial Relations Commission decision.
The IRC on May 31 dismissed an application by the Australian Paramedics Union and Health Services Union to dismiss an application by the Ministry of Health to create an additional 'duty operations centre officer' role across the organisation's five control centres.
In an effort to address what it reports as difficulties in recruiting appropriately qualified candidates, the ministry sought to reach an agreement with the APA and HSU to include, in the relevant award, a new DOCO position that does not need paramedic qualifications.
The award presently contains a classification of DOCO that requires the incumbent to be a paramedic.
Riverina paramedic John Larter said that as long as the senior operations officer role above the DOCO roles remain paramedic qualified, then "continuity will remain".
"My only issue is you've got to have a helicopter view of the stakes and be responsible for allocating resources to cases," Mr Larter said.
"The DOCO role is responsible for ambulance resources in their operational areas and without insight into what a paramedic does, it may be concerning.
"Giving medical advice as a first-responder at a control centre means you'd have to understand what those people at the other end of the phone are going through - that's very difficult and it comes with experience and knowledge."
However, he said that as long as the non-paramedic DOCO role comes with adequate training, then the balance between recruitment strategies and having effective non-paramedic DOCOs would likely be achieved.
The APA and HSU application argued that the commission does not have the power to change the award and that the application is inconsistent with clauses in industrial relations regulation and the award.
"There are people who currently sit in those positions as qualified paramedics and the effect of the application will be that their salary will be reduced if the application is upheld," counsel for APA Ian Latham said during a hearing.
In his decision, commissioner Damian Sloan said: "On the balance of the evidence before me, there is nothing in the ministry application which would affect the terms and conditions for DOCOs who have paramedic qualifications".
"They will remain subject to the same terms and conditions that presently apply to their employment," Mr Sloan said.
"Nothing in the ministry application requires any of those employees to relinquish their paramedic qualifications and become a non-paramedic DOCO.
"Rather, the ministry application seeks to create a new classification, with consequential rates of pay and related conditions for non-paramedic DOCOs."
In a statement, a Health Ministry spokesperson said: "This additional classification is aimed at benefiting service delivery and career opportunities, as it improves the career prospects for staff who are not paramedics but who have the required skills to coordinate and dispatch".
The NSW Government's budget announcement in June last year included an investment in NSW Ambulance of more than $1 billion for 2018-19 and 700 additional paramedics, including 12 for Wagga, and 50 control centre staff over four years.
The matter is scheduled for further hearing and determination.
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