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17 Jun 2020

Thank you, paramedics

Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (20:23): I wish to pay tribute to all of the paramedics in Australia, especially those in my home state of South Australia. In many ways they are a forgotten frontline service, too often bundled into the title ‘health workers’ when congratulations are publicly in order. They are rarely singled out for the credit and appreciation they deserve.

It is important to recognise that they are not just health workers; they are equally an emergency service. Being so, each and every paramedic must deal with the inevitable danger and risk that comes in delivering such a service. They are not armed or trained to defend themselves. Instead, they have the skills to ease pain and save lives. More often than not, they work in pairs, giving care to the sick on the very same streets and in the same houses that the police so often have to patrol or visit. This makes them one of the most noble of our professions . During the pandemic, they just kept going on with serving their communities. While the rest of us adjusted our lives to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during the pandemic, they walked willingly out the doors of their own homes to serve their communities, leaving their loved ones behind. At the end of their shift, they returned home, often returning in the early morning, when their partners were just starting the day, weary in body and soul, desperately attempting to put the trauma they had experienced behind them, trauma that seems so far from their own personal lives yet remains within them and subtly challenges and disrupts their efforts to live as others do. The life they lead in our service is what makes them truly exceptional. They are the angels that walk among us.

Earlier this month, on 2 June, we took time to acknowledge emergency services, on Thank a First Responder Day. We also are currently in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. Both of these events drive me at this time to bring the life of a paramedic and the impact of this life on their health to the attention of honourable senators. By the very nature of their duty, paramedics are at great risk of suffering from PTSD. Some research suggests that they are at the highest risk amongst the rank of emergency services. Research makes it clear that a paramedic’s mental health is adversely affected not only by the trauma they experience on a weekly basis but also by the inherent pressures of their job, such as making life-and-death decisions, the relentlessness of shift work, training obligations and fatigue. Despite their professional and assured patina, which we all experience when seeking their care, underneath the calm many are in great pain. Honourable senators may not have had the opportunity to have read the report published by Beyond Blue titled Answering the call national survey. Beyond Blue conducted a national mental health and wellbeing study of emergency services. It makes sobering reading and compels action.

Before I came to this place, I spent a modest sojourn at the foot of the Hindu Kush. I know firsthand that many of those who have served in our military, far from home, now suffer stress associated with their service. There is an abundance of services offered by all levels of government, as well as community support to ensure veterans receive the care that they need. This is the right path and I will never waver from advocating for this commitment to our veterans. But I seek the same commitment for our paramedics. Whilst they do not travel far from home, exposure to traumatic events is an integral part of their working lives. Day in and day out they are confronted with tragedy and pain. Then they go home, expected to live ordinary lives with their loved ones, which is often very difficult. I acknowledge the state and territory funded support programs that exist within many ambulance services. However, I believe that more can be done and achieved. I call on state and territory leaders, in the spirit of compassion, to reflect on those men and women who serve in this unique and special role and to ask themselves whether we are doing enough to ease the burden of their service. I suspect the answer will be that we fall short. The patron saint of paramedics is Saint Michael, an archangel. We should not just leave it to him to watch over our paramedics.

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