Article courtesy of KIM PEMBERTON, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Emergency officials are defending changes to how ambulance crews respond to 9-1-1 calls, rejecting claims that patients are being put at risk or are being made to wait significantly longer for medical help.
By downgrading many types of routine or “comfort” calls, ambulances are able to respond more quickly to critically ill patients, and are making roads safer for other drivers because lights and sirens are being used less often, said B.C. Emergency Health Services board chairman Wynne Powell.
“We are reallocating the resources we have to get to the sickest patients first. It’s the same number of paramedics and the same number of ambulances, (but) we’re just doing it in a more appropriate fashion,” Powell said Tuesday.
The B.C. Ambulance Service has been criticized in recent weeks by officials in Vancouver and Surrey, who claim residents are waiting much longer for ambulances, in some cases for more than an hour, since a decision last October to downgrade 74 call types from “emergency” to “routine”.
Since the changes, first responders are no longer required to attend cases such as falls, traumas, motor vehicle accidents and reports of chest pains with lights and sirens blaring.
Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney recently said he believes the decision to downgrade many emergency response calls ignored information provided by fire departments, who on average respond to 66 per cent of calls before ambulance paramedics arrive.
William Dick, who has been consulting with the province’s municipalities on behalf of B.C. Emergency Health Services, said he disagrees with the view that calls are being mishandled.
“We’re still providing care to every patient we’re encountering. The same (amount of money) is being spent, it’s just how we’re doing it,” he said.
Dick said McKearney had forwarded any cases of concern, and that Dick had personally reviewed the files. He said that the health of all these patients had not been put at risk.
He said that the average wait time, provincially, for an ambulance is six minutes, and in the Lower Mainland it is 10 minutes. For critically ill patients, the average wait time has improved by at least a minute, he said.
Powell said officials are reviewing the 114,000 emergency calls that have been received since the change went into effect, and are asking for an independent review to ensure they “got it right.”
“This is a journey of constantly trying to improve the system on behalf of the public. There will be ongoing reviews,” he said. “When you do over 500,000 calls a year, it appears this management team is getting it right. We hope that is what the external reviewer will tell us.”