A review of provincial ambulance services says Newfoundland and Labrador needs a central dispatch system and a single agency to oversee services.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan (right) releases a review of the province’s ambulance services at a news conference Monday in St. John’s with deputy health minister Dr. Cathi Bradbury. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram
The review, released Monday by Health Minister Susan Sullivan, which can be seen at www.health.gov.nl.ca/health, was completed in August by a partnership of Missouri-based EMS consultants Fitch and Associates with local consultants Jane Helleur and Associates.
Sullivan said the recommendations aren’t about cutting costs, but the current level of spending is unsustainable.
“Over the past 10 years, the budget for the road ambulance program has increased substantially, growing from $14 million in 2001-02 to more than $50 million in 2011-12,” she said Monday afternoon at a news conference in Confederation Building.
“This increase can be attributed to a variety of factors, those including a greater number of ambulances on our roads and highways, more professional and trained staff available to respond to calls, rising costs of medical equipment and operational costs such as fuel and vehicle maintenance.”
Sullivan said there has been an increase in demand for service, with the number of ambulance transports increasing more than 20 per cent over the last three years, with an average of 185 emergency and routine transports a day over a wide geographic area, comprising 61 different providers across the province.
The report makes 10 recommendations that it says should be completed within five years.
In addition to the central dispatch system and single administrative agency (the report suggests EMS Newfoundland and Labrador would have direct accountability to the deputy minister of the department of health and community services), recommendations include:
‰ Moving from ambulance “level of effort” contracts to performance-based contracts;
‰ Clarifying ambulance operator roles, responsibilities and rights;
‰ Enacting emergency medical services legislation to govern provincial ambulance services;
‰ Designing a tiered EMS response, taking into consideration unique attributes and demographics of communities;
‰ Establishing a plan to address human resources issues like recruitment and retention.
Sullivan said all of the recommendations would be cost-neutral, with the exception of the establishment of the central dispatch, which would cost an estimated
$5 million. The next step is to hold public feedback sessions in November.
“We’ll be inviting the public to provide their views via the Internet, email and/or regular mail. We see this engagement process as the next critical step in the process,” said Sullivan, who said the government plans to release an implementation plan by early 2014 after public consultations.
Sullivan declined to commit to or reject any of the recommendations in advance of public engagement sessions.
NDP fire and emergency services critic George Murphy said the report the province gets is “halfway” finished but off to a great start.
“I think that they could have gone to the public too at the same time as going to the people that were working within the system … and killed two birds with one stone,” he said. “I form an image here of dragging of feet, and I don’t like that.”
Murphy said it shouldn’t take five years to implement the report’s recommendations.
“I do not agree with the 60-month timeline. I think that this can be done within two years and done readily within two years,” he said.
“It’s going to take a lot of co-ordination, for example, between Municipal Affairs in speeding up access to 911. … When it comes to dispatching, for example, I fully agree with the point of having central dispatch. That’s a no-brainer for me.”
But Liberal MHA Tom Osborne — who said the central dispatch recommendation is a good idea — said he doubts five years is enough for the government to act on the recommendations.
“I’m delighted to see the consultants’ report in,” he said. “The fact that government had this for two months before releasing to the public, or almost two months — they’re hoping to have these recommendations in place within five years? I can’t see it. I can’t see it taking place within five years.”