Monday, 20 October 2008

Assess ambulance chief over bullying: report

A report into the troubled NSW ambulance service today recommended that the CEO, Greg Rochford, urgently meet the NSW Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, to assess his performance after a disturbing inquiry into bullying and harassment in the service.

The draft report into the management and operations of the Ambulance Service of NSW had recommended Mr Rochford be replaced but that was not supported by all members of the upper house committee.

The chairwoman of the committee, Robyn Parker said after tabling the report that the inquiry into the service showed that ambulance management and government had "brushed under the carpet" serious issues affecting the mental health of paramedics for 10 years.

She said there were nine suicides of which the inquiry knew.

She said Mr Rochford appeared to be "completely unaware" of the extent of bullying and harassment in the service.

"He came and said he was saddened and distressed. Well, this has been going on for 10 years," she said.

"I think if this Government ignores this once more I think we will have a terrible situation."

The report also recommended that Mr Della Bosca and the Director-General of NSW Health Debora Picone meet Mr Rochford quarterly to review progress in relation to reducing bullying and harassment in the service and that the progress be reported to Parliament in the same way that the fire and police services are required to do.

Ms Parker said so many officers contacted the committee in a distressed state that a mental health protocol was established to deal with them.

"This inquiry found that management and government had failed to act over 10 years. Dozens of reviews, dozens of reports and ambulance officers [are] still continuing to suffer from bullying and harassment," she said.

"We have a senior management and successive health ministers who want to brush this under the carpet. This report says enough is enough."

But deputy chairwoman Christine Robertson said that government members of the committee did not agree with many of the report's conclusions.

She described the report as "one sided" because it did not recognise the operational change already achieved and because a lot of evidence was confidential.

The inquiry received 261 submissions, twice that of the recent parliamentary inquiry into Royal North Shore Hospital.

A spokesman for the Health Minister said: "The minister already meets with Mr Rochford regularly and they discuss key performance indicators for the Ambulance Service."

He said he had not had the opportunity to read the report as yet.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government must not ignore this report because the service was "stretched to breaking point".

"If the Premier [Nathan Rees] wants to get real he needs to force his Health Minister [John Della Bosca] to act on all of these recommendations as a starting point," she said.

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