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Lives are at risk due to long ambulance response times: B.C.'s AG

Last Updated Feb 27, 2019 at 7:56 pm PDT

(Source: facebook.com/mayorstewart)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Ambulances in B.C. are taking far too long to respond to life-threatening calls for help. That’s the shocking finding of the latest review emergency health services by BC’s auditor general, who says some people are waiting more than 45 minutes.

The response time is supposed to be within nine minutes. Carol Bellringer says that target is only being met 50 per cent of the time, when it comes to life-threatening calls.

“There are examples that are exceeding 45 minutes. We are certainly are pointing out that the longer it takes, the greater the risk — and that is indeed the case,” she said.

“The quality of care that you receive, there’s the immediate risk. But there’s also the long-term risk, as well, that is equally as important.”

Over the last two years, more workers have been hired by BC Emergency Health Services, but Bellringer says more support is needed from Victoria because firefighters — who are often the first responders to arrive — are mostly funded by municipalities.

“We’re well aware of the fact that this is not a new problem. It’s highly politically-charged, but in our view, that is not an excuse for not proceeding.”

She says 19 of the province’s 294 fire departments need more funding.

Bellringer’s report finds “urban areas account for 86 per cent of all high-acuity 9-1-1 medical events”

It finds some people in rural and remote areas can see a lower level of service compared to those in urban areas. This can be due to the time it takes for paramedics and first responders to reach patients, longer distances to hospitals, and fewer — or sometimes no — advanced care paramedics.

“Patients in communities without advanced care paramedics will have fewer medical interventions available to them at the scene of an emergency and on the way to the hospital.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix says he agrees with the Bellringer’s recommendations – and some changes have already been made.

“Like all such reports, it deals with periods in question, and the changes we have made directly respond to that, so they’re not just us agreeing with recommendations, they’re direct action,” he says.

Dix says that action includes adding more than 100 paramedics, dozens of staff in other areas and 45 ambulances since the NDP took office in 2017.

Bellringer’s report makes four key recommendations:

  • BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) reviews its performance management framework to identify additional indicators for timeliness and clinical quality
  • BCHS determines an appropriate level of pre-hospital advanced care coverage that considers patient need, and implement stategies to achieve that level
  • BCHS improves transparency and accountability by publicly reporting on its targets and performance
  • The Ministry of Health works with local governments and BCEHS to ensure that BCEHS can implement a coordinated approach to pre-hospital care that results in:
    • medical oversight, to the extent appropriate, across agencies to ensure that patient care meets acceptable medical standards
    • data-sharing between agencies to better understand whether patients are getting the right medical interventions at the right time
    • signed agreements outlining the roles and responsibilities of fire departments, including the level of care provided
    • confirmation that first responders are being notified of events where they can best contribute to patient care