Hato Hone St John staff say the service is at a breaking point, with pay negotiations at a standstill, understaffed shifts and increasing wait times for ambulances.

They’re calling for the Government to increase the service’s funding.

Currently, the Government funded 82% of St John’s $395 million budget. The rest came from donations and sponsorships, and a $98 charge for patients to be transported to hospital.

If nothing changed on Budget day, it could cause further wait times for ambulances, members of First Union told Breakfast this morning, adding a current hiring and wage freeze needed to be lifted to remedy the issues.

However, St John said there was no freeze on hiring frontline ambulance personnel, although it was not actively recruiting outside of hard-to-fill rural locations.

Two frontline ambulance officers also claim the organisation is in a hiring freeze.

Speaking to Breakfast, emergency medical technician Tom Bannan said in his 36 years of working at St John, he had not seen it “in more dire straits” than what it was now.

“On the frontline, we get to work, we might be on a night shift and at [11pm] our dispatcher will be saying to us ‘that’s the end of the day shift jobs gone, now we’re back to doing our own nightshift work’.”

Bannan added a lot of staff were leaving St John, as they were registered professionals with more options in the private sector or overseas.

“We feel undervalued, we always seem to be fighting for more, even just to get the basics. Don’t get me wrong, St John has some really good ideas but, to push those forward, we need the Government to step up and come up with some funding.

“We get told St John has asked for 100% [funding]. The Government say, ‘no they haven’t’. Somewhere in the middle of the murky water is the truth but we don’t know exactly what that is.”

St John critical care paramedic Geoff Hunt told Breakfast wages at St John haven’t kept up with other comparative roles.

He said, along with an increase in wages, a funding boost to St John would allow them to bring other services to the public such as remote triage units and remote telehealth.

‘Highest number of paid staff ever’ — St John chief executive

In a statement to Breakfast, Hato Hone St John chief executive Peter Bradley said: “Hato Hone St John has the highest number of paid staff ever.

“Right now, New Zealanders with immediately life-threatening emergencies are getting faster response times than they have in the last three years.

“On some occasions that an ambulance becomes single crewed, it will be designated as a First Response Unit, and be backed up by a double crewed ambulance without delay.”

Later on Breakfast, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was asked whether there would be an increase in funding for paramedics in this week’s Budget.

“I’ve actually been out with St John staff in New Zealand and seen the great work that they do,” he said.

“[But] there’s a union negotiation going on where they’re bargaining with St John as an organisation.”

He pointed to the 2022 contract renewal between the Government and St John, “that led to about 300 more frontline staff and communications centre staff being added to the organisation.

“They do a great job, we obviously have a contract in place with St John, they obviously have a bargaining round with their union which they’ve gotta work their way through – but you know, we’ll continue to make sure we support St John and the funding model that we’ve actually got in place.”

Luxon repeated that the organisation still wanted access to some private funding.

“You’re talking to people in the middle of a bargaining round between the union and the St John organisation.

“The Government’s responsibility is to interface with the St John organisation, which was done in 2022 for a four-year contract.”