Paramedics Australasia, the peak industry body for paramedics, is leading the push to raise the status of paramedics by moving to professional registration.

Professional registration would have many advantages (see a paper I wrote earlier, with Jason Bendall of NSW Ambulance, ‘The provision of Ambulance Services in Australia: a legal argument for the national registration of paramedics’ in the Journal of Emergency Primary Health Care.  It would give paramedics a moveable qualification so that they could move between employers rather than having to ‘requalify’ each time.  An employer would know that a registered paramedic has a set of minimum prescribed skills and can be safely entrusted with the care of patients as well as the use of drugs and paramedic technology.

Registration would also protect patients as they would know that a person calling themselves a paramedic has the necessary skills to practice their profession and, in the event of unsatisfactory professional conduct, remedies are available up to and including having a poor paramedic ‘struck off’ the register.

Professional registration would see paramedics join Doctors, Nurses, Chiropractors, Dentists, Optometrists, Osteopaths, Pharmacists, Physiotherapists, Podiatrists and Psychologists as independent, recognised health professionals whose status depends on their training and skill, rather than their employment status.

As it stands anyone can call themselves a paramedic and a person employed as a paramedic by an ambulance services loses all their qualifications and their legal authority to apply advanced first aid (eg to use various drugs) as soon as they leave that employment.

For more details on the campaign for paramedic registration, go to the Paramedics Australasia Registration webpage.

Here at the ANU College of Law, a colleague of mine, Ruth Townsend, lawyer, nurse and former paramedic (and that’s the point; she may be a full time academic but she remains as she is admitted to practice as a lawyer, and whilst she maintains her registration she remains a nurse, but she is a former paramedic because, even though she still has the skills and training, she no longer works for an ambulance service and so, is no longer a paramedic. If there was registration she could, if she met the continuing practice standards, also remain ‘a paramedic’.)  In any event, Ruth has commenced a PhD looking at the role of paramedics, their move to professional status and what that means, how the law views the paramedic (are they still ‘ambulance drivers’) and what further steps are needed to see paramedics as true professionals.

I’m sure Ruth’s work will make a valuable contribution to the debate and we look forward to seeing her make her mark in this area over the next couple of years.

Michael Eburn

23 March 2012