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The Victorian anti-corruption watchdog is warning corruption and illicit drug use is “likely” to be widespread among the state’s ambulance service, after an investigation found paramedics were stealing, trafficking and using illicit drugs.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) conducted a two-year investigation in the Barwon South West region, on Victoria’s Surf Coast, called Operation Tone.
A report tabled to the Victorian Parliament revealed two paramedics were involved in trafficking illicit drugs, while several paramedics were found using and distributing illegal or restricted medical drugs.
It added some paramedics were using supplies, such as intravenous bags to treat hangovers.
The report also found several line managers were aware of the illegal activity, but were not directly involved.
“IBAC considers this conduct and corruption vulnerabilities are likely to be more widespread across Ambulance Victoria,” an IBAC statement said.
The organisation’s Commissioner said the use of drugs was a breach of trust with the public.
“Misappropriation of Ambulance Victoria drugs of dependence can have safety implications for the broader community,” IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan said.
“The misuse of fentanyl is particularly concerning given its increasing use and association with accidental deaths in Australia.”
As a result of the investigation, one paramedic has been sacked and eight have resigned.
IBAC is calling on the Health Department to consider whether problems exist within other regions and for Ambulance Victoria to undertake a comprehensive review of the use of illicit drugs by employees.
Former top cop appointed to oversee reforms
Ambulance Victoria said it had cooperated fully with IBAC investigators and was already implementing all of the report’s recommendations.
“This is really a wake-up call for Ambulance Victoria,” chief executive Tony Walker said.
“We fully accept the recommendations that come out of the IBAC report.”
Ambulance Victoria has appointed former acting chief police commissioner Tim Cartwright to oversee the reforms.
“I think it would be fair to say that the issues raised most likely do occur in other parts of the state,” Mr Walker said.
But he added that those who behaved inappropriately were only a “small” contingent.
“There is no evidence that any patients have been impacted at all by the actions of this small group of paramedics,” Mr Walker said.
“The majority of my workforce come to work every day and do a great job. But clearly we have an element of our workforce whose behaviours breached our trust and the community’s trust.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he accepted Ambulance Victoria were making the necessary reforms.
“This is a very serious issue and I know that Ambulance Victoria take the findings very seriously,” Mr Andrews said.
“The reform that’s necessary will be made.”
Ambulance Victoria will report to IBAC next year on how it has implemented the report’s recommendations.