Liberals want ambulance wait times reviewed

The Alberta Liberals say the Health Quality Council should look at growing wait times for people needing an ambulance.

Health Sciences president suggests reviewing EMS wait times in an upcoming health care inquiry

The Alberta Liberals say the Health Quality Council (HQCA) should look at growing wait times for people needing an ambulance.

Liberal health critic David Swann says the health of Albertans is increasingly at risk as it takes longer and longer to get EMS to respond to situations. He blames the province's take-over of ambulance services in 2009.

"There continues now to be a patchwork of responsibility across the province with some areas retaining municipal control and others now under Alberta Health Services," said Swann. "Patient risk and unnecessary complications along with the growing stress with fewer EMS workers have created a ticking time bomb for both patients and caregivers."

At a news conference Friday in Calgary, Swann released confidential reports from a number of health professionals.

One report told of a patient dying because of a 15-minute ambulance delay. Another said a woman complaining of abdominal pain had to wait hours for EMS.

David Swann says he's hearing from a number of EMS workers who say things are getting worse, not better, as they go about doing their jobs.

He says the province isn't keeping up with Alberta's growth so the same number of ambulances is doing more work.

Swann said while crews wait in hospitals for their patients to be admitted, cities draw ambulances from surrounding rural areas to respond to calls — meaning the time it takes to get EMS to your door is increasing.

Health minister aware of problems

Swann wants HQCA to review the situation.

"What we need now is a thoughtful review and implementation of the best practices around the world," he said.

But Elisabeth Ballermann with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta says that issue should actually be part of an upcoming inquiry looking into the province's health care system.

"I'm not sure that a separate EMS inquiry is necessary if there is going to be an inquiry, and if EMS is a full segment of that inquiry as part of health care," she said. "It may be able to meet those needs to get that unbiased assessment."

The minister of health says he's aware of the problems inside EMS.

After a recent survey of Edmonton EMS workers revealed a number of issues, Fred Horne did a ride-along in an ambulance to see things first-hand. He said he’s not opposed to an HQCA review.

"They may well be able to be helpful," said Horne. "I think I want to spend a little bit of time sort of looking at all the issues. I don't want to just do another knee jerk review because some specific concerns have been raised."

However, Horne is sure about one thing — the responsibility for EMS won't be going back to municipalities.

Premier Alison Redford says the province is working to reduce EMS wait times, especially in the Edmonton area.