St John Ambulance Reviewed and Serious Changes Required
Two reports and a review by a psychiatrist have been released which detail St John Ambulance’s “culture of bullying” and “toxic” environment (SJA). The reports were precipitated by the suicide of five paramedics between December 2013 and March 2015. Chief Psychiatrist, Nathan Gibson, reviewed these deaths in March. Both reports concluded that whilst paramedics were prepared to confront the trauma that was ‘part and parcel of their job,’ they were distressed by their treatment by SJA in the aftermath, or in the course of their duties.
University of Melbourne Report
The University of Melbourne’s Phoenix Australia Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health completed a report on the workplace mental health risks of SJA. This report found that 405 or 58.5% of surveyed staff experienced bullying, conflict or harassment.
The other report was completed by an independent oversight panel, comprising of Neale Fong (former Health Director General), Ian Taylor (former Health Minister) and Sandy McFarlane (University of Adelaide Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies Director) (IOP Report). This report took submissions or testimony from 100 employees. The IOP Report concluded “there appears to be a degree of reluctance by St John to accept the magnitude of the risk presented by the day to day work of paramedics.” The report also noted that St John Ambulance’s response to the suicide incidents had been “overly and unnecessarily defensive and reactive.”
The concerns reported within the IOP report included: a manager visiting a paramedic’s house to check he was sick and not feigning illness, abusive and/or defamatory language by managers and junior officers being asked to keep logs on inappropriate behaviour by senior colleagues for management.
The IOP report made 27 recommendations, 23 of which SJA’s chief executive Tony Ahern has committed to implementing. SJA has further stated that it would “overhaul employee engagement and wellbeing and support services including starting a formal affiliation with a respected private psychiatric service.”