Work is about to start on the new Fairy Meadow Ambulance Station to meet the increased demand for services from the Illawarra’s northern suburbs.
NSW Health Minister and Keira MP Ryan Park, along with NSW Planning Minister and Wollongong MP Paul Scully, turned the first sod on the site at the northern end of the Innovation Campus at Fairy Meadow on Friday (7 July).
The new station, which is due for completion in early 2024, will be staffed by 24 full-time paramedics, who have been appointed and are currently working out of Bulli Ambulance Station. It will feature internal parking for up to five emergency ambulance vehicles and a wash bay, administration and office areas, staff rest facilities, logistics and storage spaces.
Flanked by NSW paramedics, Mr Park’s site visit came just hours after he held crisis talks with the Health Services Union (HSU) to come to an agreement over pay rises for NSW health workers.
Mr Park paid tribute to the hard work of paramedics, and those who worked in the critical control centres responding to triple-0 calls.
“Recently, I did one of my unannounced visits to one of their control centres, and spent a couple of hours listening to the types of triple-0 calls that they deal with and let me assure you, the work they do from the moment that triple-0 call is made to the moment they are dispatched and out on the road is so critically important,” he said.
“We know that we’ve got to try and improve response times across our region, we know that part of that is making sure that ambulances and paramedics are strategically located.
“This location was selected through analysis of the triple-0 calls and those response times and looking at what is available in the north as well as the growing number of people who are calling this part of the Illawarra home.
“It’s strategically located to the north but close to the centre, close to the hospital, and able to get onto major arterial roads quickly and efficiently.”
Mr Park also acknowledged the “enormous pressure” on emergency departments at Wollongong and other local hospitals, and said his department was focused on employing additional nurses, allied healthcare workers and paramedics.
“It’s no point just having ambulance stations if there are problems up at the hospital, I understand that,” he said.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do at Wollongong, it’s still not performing as well as we would like. We know that we need to continue to roll out reforms such as reducing the amount of aged care and those with disability in our hospitals and move them out of our acute hospitals into more appropriate settings.”
With the responsibility for aged care and NDIS support resting with the Federal Government, Mr Park said he was having ongoing conversations with his federal counterparts on how to deal with the issue of elderly patients in hospital beds who needed care in residential aged care homes.
“We’re in discussions around what we can do to open up the back part of the hospital because if people are in beds who shouldn’t be there, who should be in different settings – whether it’s through NDIS at home or other providers, whether it’s through aged care settings – it means we can’t unlock that capacity so when people turn up at ED there’s not a bed there,” he said.
Mr Park outlined details of the government’s latest wage offer to the HSU, which will now take it to its members.
He said the government was offering a $3500 flat rate pay rise, rather than a percentage rise, meaning the lowest-paid staff would receive a proportionally higher jump in pay.
“We focused this morning on looking at the way in which Gerard [HSU boss Gerard Hayes] would like to allocate the existing 4 per cent offer that has been put on the table,” Mr Park said.
“Nothing has changed about that 4 per cent. What Gerard is looking to take to the membership is changing it, so that the lower-paid workers he represents, people on those incomes generally lower than about $85,000 to $90,000, will actually get more if they get a flat $3500 than the 4 per cent.
“We’re not changing the total. We’re not changing the quota. It means that those on lower incomes get more, those on higher incomes don’t get as much.
“We are comfortable in doing that and having that flexibility because that is still in the same amount offered to every single other public sector worker across NSW.”