Tony Jenkins cared for his community as a paramedic for 28 years.
“He was left on his own, he wasn’t nearly given the amount of support he should have been given,” nephew Shayne Connell told 9News.
“Twenty-eight years on the job, being there in people’s worst moments, and when it’s their worst moment, they’re left out on their own. That’s not good enough.”
The 54-year-old, who worked in the Hunter Region, suffered post traumatic stress disorder and was struggling to deal with the pressures of the job.
In April 2018 he was called into a meeting with management and accused of stealing the opioid pain-killer fentanyl.
His family said he admitted to thoughts of self-harm in the meeting but was allowed to leave on his own and shortly after committed suicide.
“He wasn’t looked after that day,” his wife Sharon Jenkins said.
“And if he was, he would be here today. Our hearts are broken all the time.”
A subsequent audit of NSW ambulance stations across the Hunter region found a significant number of vials of fentanyl had been tampered with and a quantity of the medication was missing.
However, while his family says he struggled with the pressures of the job, they do not believe he stole any of the medication.
“There isn’t any evidence to say that dad was using or had stolen fentanyl,” his daughter Kim Jennings said.
“He was wrongly accused. Had there been better systems in place there wouldn’t have been any room for error … we have been quite passionate in lobbying for those NSW ambulance officers who are under that stress because they’re not criminals, they’re not taking drugs because they’re enjoying themselves … it’s a legitimate problem.”
Following a SafeWork investigation into Tony’s death, NSW Ambulance today pleaded guilty to a criminal breach of the Work Health and Safety Act.
Among the issues identified during the investigation was a failure to ensure paramedics were witnessed by a colleague when handling, administering and disposing of restricted medication, including fentanyl.
The court heard NSW Ambulance also failed to audit vials for signs of tampering.
The Jenkins family said the issues with NSW Ambulance run much deeper than the abuse of drugs.
“The mental burden that they (paramedics) carry isn’t recognised,” Jennings said.
“The pressures of working huge long hours without a break … they see or deal with something traumatic and they’re sent off to the next job and the next job and the next job.”
The breach of the Work Health and Safety Act carries a maximum fine of $500,000, but NSW Ambulance argued the offence was in the low range and is entitled to a 25 per cent reduction because it immediately pleaded guilty.
It also argued that in order to do their jobs effectively, paramedics must have access to medications such as fentanyl, which will always carry a slight risk.
The judgement on the penalty for NSW Ambulance is expected in the coming weeks.
“A whole lot of change is needed to prevent this in future,” Connell said.
“He was a great paramedic, he was passionate about his job,” his wife added.
“Tone cared about other paramedics and I’m sure they would have wanted us to speak up.”