Sometimes I get questions where someone says “I’ve been told this … and is it correct?” and sometimes I think ‘how could anyone think that?’  This is one of those questions from a Queensland paramedic – and it’s not the paramedic who’s left me shaking my head, but the person who gave the initial advice.  My correspondent says:

My duties require me to regularly transfer prisoners from a number of local prisons to nearby hospitals for medical review and treatment. In such instances there are usually two prison guards escorting the prisoner in the ambulance or a prison officer in the ambulance with an armed prison officer following the ambulance in an escort vehicle with attack/tracking dogs.

In a recent transfer while speaking with a prison officer it was indicated to me that if I were to be involved in a traffic incident, say another vehicle or a pedestrian, that I would not be permitted to stop and render assistance due to there being a prisoner in the vehicle.

My understanding is that my obligations under Queensland law are twofold:

  1. I am a uniformed Ambulance Officer who is on shift (therefore currently receiving financial reward) so am obliged to stop and render assistance.
  2. Under the Section 92 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (QLD) a vehicle involved in a road incident resulting in injury or death must (a)  immediately stop the vehicle, tram or animal; and (b) if any person is injured – (i) remain at or near the scene of the incident and immediately render such assistance as the driver can to the injured person

I would also think that as a paramedic in an operational ambulance vehicle my obligations under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (QLD) would extend considerably further than my obligations if I were to be involved a traffic incident in my private vehicle on a day off. That is to say I would be required to stop and treat any injured person in a manner which is consistent with my training, skills and education. I.e. I could not just give someone a cursory examination and continue on with the transport

My question is:

If I am the paramedic and driver of an Ambulance vehicle in Queensland that is:

  • transporting a prisoner; and
  • that vehicle is involved in a road incident; and
  • I believe or have the reasonable belief that the road incident has resulted in injury or death;

Am  I still obliged to stop the ambulance, remain at the scene and assist the injured parties even if this is contrary to the instruction of the escorting prison officer/s?

I am not going to address whether being a ‘uniformed Ambulance Officer who is on shift (therefore currently receiving financial reward)’ gives rise to a separate obligation to stop and render assistance, because I don’t need to address that to answer the question – but see Failure to attend by NSW Police and Ambulance (December 18, 2013).

Everything my correspondent says about the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld) is correct.    There is the normal exemption from the operation of the road rules for the driver of an emergency vehicle set out in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) r 306 but that won’t apply here.  First we can assume that a patient transfer is not an emergency within the meaning of the rules and second, r 306 grants an exemption from the provisions of the provisions in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 not the Act.

So is there any relevant exemption from s 92 of the Act?  The answer is ‘no’.  And it should be noted there is no exemption for anyone, including Queensland Corrective Services.  That section applies whether the prisoner’s being transferred in a station wagon, a prison van or an ambulance.   And the legislature has thought about exemptions for prison vehicles eg the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) s 353 says “A vehicle being used to transport prisoners is exempt from payment of a toll for the use of a road, bridge or ferry” and the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009 (Qld) grants some exemptions from the requirements to ensure that a passenger in a prison van is wearing a seat belt (rr 265(5) and 266(5A)).  The legislators know that the road rules apply to vehicles being used to transport a prisoner and have given the exemptions they want to give. There is no exemption from the obligation to stop and render assistance.

One can apply a ‘reality test’ here to see if this makes sense. On the one hand the fear must be that the accident is a ruse to facilitate the escape of the prisoner.    If there is actual evidence of that – eg after the accident armed offenders appear demanding the release of the prisoner – then there would be grounds to try to drive away, though I would have thought the more prudent response of a  paramedic is to say ‘you want him, you can have him’.    Even if the people seeking to secure the prisoner’s escape have done so by running over an innocent pedestrian in front of the ambulance, the paramedics may well be better off getting out to help the pedestrian and let the offenders escape.  The paramedic’s job is to render care, not secure the prisoner, that’s the job of the prison guards (and I don’t suppose they want to get shot either).

Assuming there’s no evidence of an escape attempt, on what basis could a paramedic not stop?   Why would the security of the prisoner (which is not the ambulance service’s problem) take priority over the health and well-being of someone else?  Imagine it’s your family member that has been injured, perhaps in circumstances where failure to provide immediate paramedic assistance means the outcome is fatal, do you think you would be satisfied with the explanation ‘but we had to keep a prisoner, with a non-life threatening condition, secure’.    Why would that take priority particularly if there are prison guards there who can secure the prisoner whilst immediate care is given to the injured?

As for the prison guard’s instructions, the prison service doesn’t own the ambulance and the ambulance crew aren’t subject to the prison guard’s direction and control. It is not for the prison guard to tell the driver of an ambulance what he or she is ‘permitted’ to do.  Imagine, if you will, you are transporting a person to hospital ‘for medical review and treatment’ and you are involved in or observe an accident where someone is injured.  Would you allow the patient’s family to tell you ‘you are not permitted to stop’ because they think their family member’s needs, or worse, their own needs are more important?  The answer is ‘no’ and the prison guards are in the same position.   It’s not like a taxi service where having hired the taxi I can say whether or not the taxi driver can take on a multiple hire (Transport Operations (Passenger Transport) Regulation 2005 (Qld) s 66) so I can’t tell a paramedic not to treat an injured person because I, or my loved one, or my prisoner, got into the ambulance first.  And if I hire a taxi, I can’t tell the driver to keep going after he or she has been involved in an accident because me getting to where I want to go is more important than the needs of the injured.  The guards are there to secure the prisoner not tell the paramedics how to treat them or how to drive.  If the prison service wants to give those sort of directions it should buy its own ambulance and employ its own paramedics, but even then the prison service couldn’t give instructions to ignore the provisions of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act.

Conclusion

Let me reiterate that this answer does not apply if there is reason to believe that the entire situation is a ruse designed to facilitate the escape of the prisoner but assuming that’s not the case there is nothing in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (QLD); the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009; the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld); the Corrective Services Regulation 2006 (Qld); the Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld) or the Ambulance Service Regulation 2015 (Qld) – or logic – that would give a paramedic an exemption from the requirements of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld) s 92.

Any prison guard who says a paramedic ‘would not be permitted to stop and render assistance due to there being a prisoner in the vehicle’ is speaking, to put it politely, through his or her hat.