New South Wales Paramedics are threatening to stage their first state-wide strike within a fortnight, angry at a government plan to send firefighters to medical jobs.
Health Services Union (HSU) says the state needs an extra 700 paramedics to cope with growing demand.
But the union says instead of opening up new training places, the State Government is planning to call on firefighters to help out on non-urgent jobs.
HSU secretary Gerard Hayes says that is a bad idea because firefighters have their own priorities.
“So if a firefighter stands by for a medical response and then a fire comes along are they going to leave the patient, or are they going to attend their duties?” he said.
The Health Minister Jillian Skinner has defended the plan and played down the threat of a strike, characterising it as a new union head, “flexing his muscle.”
“[Mr Hayes] should sit down with this project group to work out these issues,” she said.
“We have in fact increased the ambulance service by 300.
“Let’s make no mistake – this is not replacing a paramedic. A paramedic will always be sent.
“If, in the case of a distant location, there’s a firie closer at hand, then they will respond first. But it won’t mean that they’re the only person to turn up.
Ms Skinner says it is not a new idea.
She says it is called the First Responder program, and it has been in place since 2005.
But the union says patients will suffer if the government expands the program from rural areas to cities.