Today’s question relates to the word ‘paramedic’ on the side of a vehicle that is not staffed by paramedics. My correspondent writes:
Now that “Paramedic” is a registered title, should there be any considerations given to others responding to emergency cases in a marked ambulance with “Paramedic” on the side? I’m specifically talking about Victoria, where Ambulance Community Officers (ACO’s) respond to cases in an ambulance which has “Paramedic” on the side.
Ambulance Victoria described ‘Ambulance Community Officers’ as part of the volunteer first responder network – see https://www.ambulance.vic.gov.au/community/volunteers/ – even though it appears they are employees not volunteers. They say:
Ambulance Community Officers (ACOs) are First Responders, who are employed on a casual basis to work “on call” at either a Community or a Paramedic branch. They are trained to provide advanced first aid in rural and remote communities where the ambulance caseload is low, the ambulance branch is not staffed on a full time basis, or where the paramedic is not generally rostered to work with a second paramedic. ACOs are trained to provide a support service to qualified paramedics; they provide early interventions and can transport patients to hospital.
ACOs operating at a Community branch work in pairs and are responsible for providing first response emergency care in response to a “000” call. They may be “backed up” by the arrival of a Paramedic crew but may be required to treat and transport the patient to hospital without a Paramedic.
ACOs who are engaged to support service delivery at Paramedic branches are paired with a single paramedic, providing the advantages of a two-officer crew where this would not otherwise be routinely available due to location. At times, these ACOs may also be required to form an ACO only crew in response to demand to provide first response emergency care.
I note that the Ambulance Service Act 1982 (Tas) s 39 says:
A person must not drive, operate or have charge of, or allow another person to drive, operate or have charge of, a vehicle that is –
(a) marked with the word “paramedic”; or
(b) otherwise marked or altered so as to imply, or bears any inscription that may lead to the belief, that the vehicle is operated by a paramedic –
unless the staffing of the vehicle, at the time, includes a paramedic.
There is no similar provision in Victoria but given the term ‘paramedic’ is a restricted title it would be prudent for AV not to supply ACOs at a community branch with a vehicle marked ‘paramedic’ but perhaps there are limited vehicles and some may have to be moved about so that a community branch has a paramedic car whilst theirs is being repaired or they are at a paramedic branch it may be the only vehicle there even if there are no paramedics.
The legal rule is in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law as adopted and modified by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act 2009 (Vic). Section 113 says:
(1) A person must not knowingly or recklessly—
(a) take or use a title in the Table to this section, in a way that could be reasonably expected to induce a belief the person is registered under this Law in the health profession listed beside the title in the Table, unless the person is registered in the profession, or
(b) take or use a prescribed title for a health profession, in a way that could be reasonably expected to induce a belief the person is registered under this Law in the profession, unless the person is registered in the profession.
(2) A person must not knowingly or recklessly—
(a) take or use a title in the Table in relation to another person (the “second person”), in a way that could be reasonably expected to induce a belief the second person is registered under this Law in the health profession listed beside the title in the Table, unless the second person is registered in the profession; or
(b) take or use a prescribed title for a health profession in relation to another person (the “second person” ), in a way that could be reasonably expected to induce a belief the second person is registered under this Law in the profession, unless the second person is registered in the profession.
The question then is whether the use of the term ‘paramedic’ on the car ‘could be reasonably expected to induce a belief’ that the people who get out of the car are paramedics. For the ACO they have little choice but to use the car provided and so they may not be ‘taking or using’ the title, but it could be argued that AV, by putting ACOs in a car marked ‘paramedic’ are using the title in relation to a second person (ie the ACO). That is AV could be in breach of s 113(2) if a court accepted that the word on the side of the ambulance ‘could be reasonably expected to induce a belief [that] the second person [the ACO] is registered under this Law’ as a paramedic.
I don’t think one could draw that inference simply from the signwriting, if one sees a vehicle marked ‘plumber’ or ‘electrician’ it does not mean that the driver is a plumber or electrician, they may work for that company but you could not know in what capacity. But if you had called for a plumber and they arrived and started to do the requested work one would, I think, reasonably infer that the person is a plumber. By that analogy merely driving the car would not, I think give rise to an inference that the person is a paramedic but if they respond to a triple zero call and start providing emergency care as one would expect a paramedic to, then in context a person may well be led to believe that the person who is providing that care is indeed a paramedic.
Whether AV is guilty of an offence contrary to s 113 would depend on all the circumstances but, to return to my starting comment ‘it would be prudent for AV not to supply ACOs at a community branch with a vehicle marked ‘paramedic’’.