WA chief psychiatrist to probe ambulance officer deaths

The union representing WA ambulance officers has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the rate of suicides in the industry, after a volunteer took his own life last week.

The 46-year-old volunteer, who worked at the Dawesville depot, was the fourth St John Ambulance worker to kill himself in the past 15 months.

United Voice State Secretary Pat O’Donnell said a parliamentary inquiry was needed to address the problem.

“I guess the current situation suggest that there needs to be a fresh look at the unacceptable outcomes of people taking their lives,” he said.

“Paramedics are exposed to quite a unique set of circumstances.

“They’re exposed to more traumatic events than you or I will ever experience in our lives and they do that day-to-day.

“They also have their own personal stresses of life on top of that, [so] you have to look at that group to see how we can best support them.”

In a statement, St John offered condolences to the volunteer’s family and reminded workers that support and counselling is available.

Mr O’Donnell said more action was needed by St John and the State Government.

“They’ve all got responsibility to ensure the best is being done for the paramedics,” he said.

“If that requires a parliamentary inquiry then we would support that.”

St John ‘needs a better approach’

Mr O’Donnell said St John promised to do more to help staff and volunteers suffering from stress after two paramedics took their own lives during one week last November.

He said senior staff had put in place some measures to help, but an outside expert may be required.

“To really have a look at what’s there, to do some research and have a look at what can be done to improve the current support so we can better measure the health and well-being of those who work in the service,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“I think once you get to the point where you are potentially suicidal, you may not have the capacity go off and find support, [to] pick up the phone to speak to someone about getting support.

“[The] employer needs … a different approach or a better approach.”

The union is consulting with Professor Alexander McFarlane, from the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of South Australia, to advise on how to combat stress among its members.