Eight additional ambulances will be added in southwestern B.C. to address response time concerns.

Ambulance reforms pledged to shrink waits

New plan to hire more paramedics, treat more minor calls without a ride to hospital

B.C. is adding eight ambulances and 34 paramedics in the Lower Mainland as a first step as the government promises major reforms to improve substandard emergency response times.

The new action plan unveiled Friday by B.C. Emergency Health Services calls for big changes to how minor emergency calls are handled – more on-the-spot treatment by paramedics or even medical advice by phone is likely rather than the standard practice of an ambulance ride to hospital.

“There are still too many patients waiting too long for an ambulance who need one and there are too many patients receiving an ambulance and a transport to an ED (emergency department) that don’t require it,” BCEHS executive vice-president Linda Lupini said.

Accompanying the plan is an independent review that found it takes an average of 10 minutes and 24 seconds for ambulances to reach life-threatening calls in the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria.

A new target of under nine minutes for 75 per cent of those critical calls is being adopted, in line with international standards.

And the review warns population growth and aging will drive up call volumes six per cent a year and push ambulance response times up to more than 15 minutes by 2020 if no improvements are made.

The eight extra ambulance that are being deployed include three in Surrey, two in Langley, two in Abbotsford and one on the North Shore. Extra paramedics have also been added in the Tri Cities.

But Lupini said that is just an immediate stop gap to relieve pressure, with much more improvement required through a combination of more resources and innovation.

Without changes in procedure, she estimated, up to 30 more ambulances would be required by 2020 and at least 10 single responder vehicles.

While more money is being requested, much of the planned reforms focus on other methods to speed up ambulance response times to critical calls and to cancel or redirect ambulance transport for less urgent calls that can be handled differently.

Lupini said many of those calls “could be dealt with by physicians over the phone or a paramedic seeing and treating a patient without bringing a patient to an emergency room, because that’s what really ties up resources.”

The top reform priority is to reduce how long paramedics wait in hospital emergency departments to hand over incoming patients so they can get back on the road. Fraser Health hospitals are expected to be at the forefront of making the necessary ER reforms.

Faster dispatch and deployment times to get ambulances in service is another strategy.

The latest reform plan comes in the wake of ongoing complaints from municipalities and their fire departments of unacceptably long waits for ambulances to arrive and transport non-critical patients.

That was the result of a controversial restructuring of the B.C. Ambulance Service priority system that aimed to speed ambulances to life-threatening calls but often slowed it to others.

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said he’s optimistic about the changes.

“It should make it more of an efficient system,” he said.

Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. president Bronwyn Barter said the review confirms the service is “extremely understaffed” and argued more immediate staff increases are required.

But she said there are “a lot of positives” in the report, including the acknowledgement of the need for more resources and the move to reduce delays at hospitals, which consume 17,000 paramedic hours a year in urban areas.

NDP heath critic Judy Darcy said the government should have acted sooner in light of years of public outcry.

She predicted the plan will leave many people “still falling through the cracks” – and they may include those less acute cases where a decision is made they don’t need an ambulance response.

“The devil is going to be in the details,” Darcy said. “Triaging over the phone is a very different kettle of fish than triaging when someone presents at an emergency room.”

Transforming Emergency Health Services Action Plan

Just Posted

Everything you need to know before getting the flu shot

Local pharmacist shares concerns, recommendations before flu season hits

Victoria’s Ultimate Toy Fair bounces back into Pearkes

The family-friendly event runs Oct. 19-20 at Pearkes

Rugby Canada helps recovery efforts in Japan after typhoon cancels final match

Canadian players wanted to “give back in whatever small way they could”

Victoria feels the pinch at the pump as gas prices jump 18 cents

Gas up to 157.9 cents per litre at some stations

ELECTION 2019: Climates strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

Potent power play paces Canucks to 5-1 win over Detroit

Miller nets a pair as Vancouver wins third straight

UPDATE: British couple vacationing in Vancouver detained in U.S. after crossing border

CBP claims individuals were denied travel authorization, crossing was deliberate

After losing two baby boys, B.C. parents hope to cut through the taboo of infant death

Oct. 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in B.C.

Cheating husband sues mistress for gifted ring after wife learns about affair

The husband gave his mistress $1,000 to buy herself a ring in December 2017

POLL: Do you think the day of the federal election should be a statutory holiday?

Increasing voter turnout has long been a goal of officials across the… Continue reading

B.C. massage therapist reprimanded, fined for exposing patients’ breasts

Registered massage therapist admits professional misconduct

B.C. boosts legal aid funding in new payment contract

‘Duty counsel’ service restored in some communities, David Eby says

VIDEO: Bear spies on cyclists riding by on Campbell River street

Riders seem unaware the bruin is mere feet away on the side of the road

Most Read