Southern Wheatbelt CWA branches join call for free ambulance service and more funding for regional sub-centres

Isabel VieiraNarrogin Observer
Narrogin CWA hall.
Camera IconNarrogin CWA hall. Credit: Gordon Mingor Photography

The Country Women’s Association of WA has launched a petition calling for ambulances to be made free for all WA residents and for the State Government to “adequately fund” regional sub-centres.

The CWA’s petition calls on the State Government to address the “high cost” of ambulance services by making them free at the point of use and to “guarantee regional ambulance sub-centres are appropriately funded and resourced”.

WA pensioners are entitled to free ambulance services for medical reasons, while those over 65 who don’t receive a pension can get a 50 per cent discount.

A levy on utilities helps cover the cost of ambulance services in Queensland, which are free for the State’s residents.

Tasmanian residents can also access free ambulance services.

Narrogin CWA secretary Michelle Parker said the cost of an ambulance should not deter people from calling the life-saving service.

“The petition is very relevant, particularly for the sub-centres, as they tend to heavily rely on the volunteers to keep them running and for the people to keep doing the fantastic work they do,” she said.

“The free ambulance service should be for all people regardless of social status, financial stability, ethnicity or whether they’re old or young.”

“Everybody should be able to get to a hospital without any hesitation of calling an ambulance because of the fee shock.”

There are 160 ambulance sub-centres in regional WA — of which 144 are fully run by volunteers.

There are more than 3800 country volunteers across the State.

A St John WA spokesman said the organisation appreciated the “focus and value” the CWA placed on the ambulance service and supporting volunteers.

“While St John provides a Statewide system we can leverage in the regions, the ability to serve local communities hinges on ambulance and patient transfer fees from work completed by volunteers to supplement charitable contributions from local community members,” he said.

“Without this important funding, many places in WA would risk having no ambulance service at all. Fundraising is often undertaken to expand services.

“For example, in York, the local sub-centre is actively raising funds to launch a new community transport service which helps people get to and from medical appointments.”

Southern Wheatbelt ambulance volunteers also raise funds to help keep the vital service running in their communities.

“There are some things that are part of the job, but having to fundraise to have the resources to be able to do that job shouldn’t be something the volunteers need to do,” Ms Parker said.

“It poses the question of why isn’t it being provided?

“The Government should be looking after the people. That’s what they are there for.”

CWA Darkan secretary Eloisa Goss echoed Ms Parker’s message.

She said the cost to use the ambulance service should not deter people from seeking emergency care.

“All WA residents are not necessarily treated equally in terms of the price of transport,” she said.

“There is a cost of transportation that goes to the individual, and that could be cost-prohibitive for some people.

“They put their health at risk because they are worried about the cost of an ambulance transfer.”

Ms Goss said people needed to support their regional ambulance volunteers.

She said Darkan was lucky to have 10 volunteers at the sub-centre.

“In metropolitan areas, the paramedics are paid, where regionally they are volunteer-run sub-centres that are supported by paramedics in a larger area,” she said.

“The volunteers are people doing additional jobs or running a business that are giving up their time to come in and support others in our community.

“The rest of the community would have no awareness JUthat they have driven from their farm to the sub-centre in the middle of the night, taken someone to hospital, and then come back, cleaned up the van, then gone home, had an hour’s sleep and then gone to work the next day.

“We are then none the wiser that we’ve got these amazing and dedicated people in our community who are willing to do that for us.”

A State Government spokeswoman said the May State Budget contained extra funding for WA’s ambulance services.

“As part of the 2022-23 Budget, the State Government has committed an additional $30.1 million to deliver extra paid paramedics and ambulance services in the bush,” she said.

“The WA Country Health Service, in collaboration with St John WA, have already delivered additional ambulance capacity, including 26 extra paramedics deployed across country WA.”

The State Government recorded a $5.7 billion surplus in the 2022-23 Budget.

Ms Parker said the State Government should consider using some of that surplus to boost the ambulance service.

The petition closes on October 11.

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