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By ROBYN BRISTOW

St John Ambulance crews are under pressure in rural North Canterbury as volunteers leave the organisation.

Resignations have left Hanmer Springs with an “intermittent” First Response unit while Cheviot has a core group of eight meeting call out demands.

Volunteers say a lack of support from St John and growing expectations on their time has led to resignations, made recruitment difficult and left small numbers carrying the workload.

Cheviot volunteer Brian Wilkinson says the Cheviot area committee’s efforts to pay a person two days a week to do administration and man an ambulance came to nought when St John stepped in.

“The sad part was they were more worried about their setup than rural stations helping themselves with their own money by paying a person to keep the ambulance on the road more,” he says.

Funds had been raised in the district, people donating to a cause they thought would help improve their ambulance service, “so the area committee had plenty of funds to cover the cost”.

“This proposal was turned down by St John as it wasn’t done anywhere else and it might encourage other stations to do the same.”

“Volunteers hardly ever see their rural support officer now, which is a shame as new volunteers are also getting disenchanted with the organisation,” Mr Wilkinson says.

“We are in a shocking position at the moment. People with young kids are not keen to put themselves on the roster or even join.

“It is a struggle in rural areas.”

The station is called out three to four times a week and has the support of a PRIME team (Primary Response in Medical Emergencies) during working hours, but not after hours.

Issues were brought to a head in Hanmer Springs last week when a public meeting was called to discuss the situation.

The discussion also traversed the training required for those returning to the job and the length of time needed to train new recruits.

St John admits to problems and says it is working hard to recruit more St John volunteers who will now be supported by the new station manager at Culverden, Ann Cleaver.

There has also been an assurance the unit will be based solely in the Hanmer Springs response area and will not be expected to travel outside of it.

St John district operations manager Dion Rosario says some of the gaps “are clearly
shortcomings on our part”.

“I am not afraid to say we could have done better. It is fair to say we knew there were
problems.”

He says there is still St John support in the area, with a First Response unit coming
from Culverden when Hanmer Springs was unable to muster a team. If Culverden was unable
to respond, a unit would attend from another stations.

The North Canterbury News was told Rangiora has responded on occasion.
Mr Rosario says there is also a very good PRIME team in the area, ensuring quality 24-hour
care for anyone in need.

“No-one will be left in the lurch,” he says.

St John had been working since August last year to try to improve the situation with the
volunteers.

Those who wanted to leave had been encouraged to “take a leave of absence”. However,
some had opted out.

“We had an action plan in place and were trying to do what we thought was right.

“But, once again, we failed miserably. However, it did not help that some were quite
negative to what we were doing,” he says.

He says, since the meeting, plans had been put in place and work had started in earnest to address the issue, including helping volunteers returning to St John and those who had signed up to become volunteers. There were steps that could not be left out for those returning, such as having to do a driving course because of Land Transport New Zealand changes.

A training date had been set in Hanmer Springs so volunteers did not have to travel out of town to attend.

Local Hurunui councillor Jason Fletcher says resignations have come about because people felt unsupported by management.

“It a systemic problem from management and the lack of consideration and support
being given to volunteers. It makes it very difficult to become a volunteer,” he says.