4 April 2024

Former Wagga paramedic drove patients in ambulance while his driver’s licence was suspended

| Oliver Jacques

Mr Richards transported patients after his licence was suspended. Photo: File/Julia Gomina.

A former Wagga paramedic has been disqualified from working in this profession for two years after being found to have driven patients in a NSW Ambulance while his driver’s licence was suspended.

The oversight body Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) applied for disciplinary findings to be made against Christopher Richards, 34, with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), an independent body outside the court system that settles disputes.

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According to the published NCAT decision, Mr Richards was stopped by police on 2 July 2022 and breathalysed with a blood alcohol reading of 0.134. His licence was immediately suspended.

However, three days later, NCAT said he drove an ambulance and transported patients on two assigned jobs while working as a registered paramedic in Wagga. One of these patients was a 79-year-old female suffering chest pains.

In Wagga Wagga Local Court on 7 September 2022, Mr Richards was convicted of a mid-range drink-driving offence. He received a 12-month good behaviour bond and was disqualified from driving for three months.

Two months later, he was handed a conviction for driving a motor vehicle while his licence was suspended.

According to the NCAT decision, he had also previously been charged with drink-driving offences on two separate occasions – in 2014 in Canberra and in 2020 in Wagga.

Mr Richards had completed a Bachelor of Nursing with a Bachelor of Paramedicine degree in 2017. He initially worked as a nurse in Canberra before taking up a position at Wagga Wagga Ambulance Station in 2018.

In November 2022, his paramedic registration lapsed and he surrendered his nursing registration the following month.

He made a statement to the magistrate ahead of his September 2022 court hearing that included this admission: “I am a paramedic and I have strived hard for many years through study and to get to this very privileged and trusted job. I know the destruction that alcohol can create. I was detected DUI [driving under influence] in 2020 after making the same mistake as I am here for today.”

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HCCC sought to have NCAT findings made against the 34-year-old both due to his driving convictions and because of alleged “unethical conduct”, such as failing to immediately inform the Chief Executive of NSW Ambulance Services that his licence was suspended.

“As a paramedic whose licence had been previously been disqualified for driving under the influence twice in NSW, the practitioner must have known that it was wrong to drive an ambulance transporting patients while his licence was suspended,” NCAT said in its decision.

“By withholding important information from his employer that he had been charged and suspended, NSW Ambulance was not able to take the necessary steps to protect the public.”

NCAT ruled that if Mr Richards were still registered as a paramedic, the Tribunal would have cancelled his registration. It also disqualified him from being registered as a paramedic for a period of two years from March 2024.

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