Formal recognition at last for paramedics’ frontline medical role

  • Hon Dr David Clark

New Zealand’s more than 1000 paramedics are to have their role as key frontline health professionals formally recognised and regulated in the same way as doctors and nurses, Health Minister David Clark says.

The Government has agreed to regulate paramedics under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.

“Paramedic leaders have been pushing for this formal recognition of their status for years,” David Clark says.

“Labour has long supported them on this so I’m pleased to now deliver on our pledge to make it happen.

“Paramedics are usually the first on the scene when we suffer a medical emergency and they do great work saving thousands of lives each year.

“These long overdue changes will ensure the high professional standard to which they currently work will be maintained and enhanced into the future.

“Like doctors, and nurses, paramedics provide key life preserving services. They act independently in assessing, treating, transporting and referring patients.

“Putting a similar level of regulation in place to that for other key health professionals gives assurance that paramedics are appropriately qualified and competent to practise.   

“With that assurance in place, paramedics will continue to play a key role in frontline health settings, especially in rural areas where timely decisions and actions can be critical to preserving life,” David Clark says.

Regulation will come into effect on 1 January 2020, but it will take some time to establish the new Council and start registration which is expected to be in place later next year. 

Nominations for members of the new Paramedic Council will be sought early in the new year. Once the new Council is established, it will spend some time setting up the new standards and processes required before all paramedics have to be registered. 

Costs for regulating paramedics are expected to be shared between the Ministry of Health, ACC, St John and Wellington Free. 

The purpose of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act is to protect the public by providing mechanisms to regulate health professions that pose a risk of harm to the public. 

The Act enables independent authorities to regulate health practitioners.  There are over 20 regulated professions including, for example, medical practitioners, nurses, dentists, midwives, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. 

The new Paramedic Council will bring the total number of responsible authorities (regulatory bodies) under the Act to 17. 

Paramedics provide acute emergency care to patients in life-threatening situations and practise high-risk interventions under challenging environments.  For example, paramedics may need to place a cannula into a patient’s vein to administer restricted and/or prescription medicines and fluids.  They may need to perform surgical procedures on a patient’s airway or chest to assist breathing. 

Just over 1,000 paramedics currently work for the two emergency ambulance providers St John and Wellington Free Ambulance. This workforce is expected to grow to 1,400 by 2021 as double crewing is standardised around the country.