IBAC uncovers illicit drug misuse by some paramedics

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Victoria’s independent anti-corruption commission has uncovered drug misuse and other corrupt conduct by Ambulance Victoria paramedics.

A special report has been tabled before Parliament on Monday reports the findings of an IBAC investigation, Operation Tone, into the drug misuse and corrupt conduct allegations concerning paramedics.

The report identified several paramedics who were found to be using illicit drugs, including one paramedic who had stolen and used Ambulance Victoria drugs of dependence, including fentanyl and morphine.

Some paramedics were also found misappropriating supplies to inappropriately treat themselves and their families and friends. The conduct extended to paramedics taking intravenous bags along with cannulation equipment, to treat the symptoms of hangovers.

“Ambulance Victoria paramedics play a vital role in serving the community, often in demanding circumstances. The community rightfully places great trust in paramedics and expects they will demonstrate professionalism and integrity in carrying out their duty of care to patients,” said IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan.

“Misappropriation of Ambulance Victoria drugs of dependence can have safety implications for the broader community if drug registers are not accurate, and ambulance vehicles are not stocked with appropriate medications.”

“The misuse of fentanyl is particularly concerning given its increasing use, and association with accidental deaths, in Australia.”

Because of Operation Tone, a paramedic was terminated from work and eight others resigned while under investigation. Six paramedics retained their jobs but with a formal warning. Of these, five were relocated to different regions for varying periods, and were enrolled in an ethics counselling course, and precluded from development opportunities for 12 months.

Following the investigation, one witness pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates Court to breaching a confidentiality notice and misleading IBAC and was fined $5000.

Ambulance Victoria has since proactively responded to the issues identified by Operation Tone and introduced new policies and practices to minimise opportunities for the possession, use, and misappropriation of drugs of dependence, and to prevent the theft of their equipment.

“We have a trusted position in the community that we need to do our job and we will not tolerate any staff member stepping outside Ambulance Victoria’s high clinical and ethical standards,” said Ambulance Victoria CEO Associate Professor Tony Walker.

Associate Professor Walker said Ambulance Victoria is committed to reforming practices and policies and culture that allowed the issues to happen.

“The majority of people come to work and do the right thing and deliver exceptional care for our patients. However, when there are issues that could impact this, we won’t accept it and we won’t turn a blind eye,” he said.

“There is no evidence to suggest these issues are widespread, however, we still have work to do to ensure staff understands the standards both the community and the organisation expect from their ambulance service workers.

“Over the past two years, we have implemented significant improvements to our drug policies, controls, and testing to prevent such issues being repeated and these reforms have been acknowledged by IBAC in this report.

“Ambulance Victoria is already a better organisation for the IBAC investigation and we will continue to work on improvements.”

A random drug testing of AV staff will also commence soon and will be supported with further training and communication to promote staff awareness and understanding of what is required of them, and the support available to those who have an issue with drug and alcohol use.

“Drug and alcohol use is an issue in the wider community and all employers need to be prepared to manage these issues in their workforce,” Associate Professor Walker said.

IBAC recommended a comprehensive review of the use of illicit drugs and misuse of drugs of dependence by its employees, as well as the development and implementation of a more robust framework to prevent and detect such drug use. It also further recommended the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to examine whether similar vulnerabilities identified in Operation Tone could exist in other Victorian health services.

Ambulance Victoria will provide IBAC with a progress report by 30 March 2018. Both Ambulance Victoria and DHHS are required to report to IBAC by 28 September 2018 on the implementation of the recommendations.

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