Rural patients who need specialized medical services will be able to fly to Winnipeg for care rather than travelling by ambulance, Health Minister Theresa Oswald said Thursday.

Currently, rural patients who need to move for specialized care are transported by ambulance. There are about 20 such transports into Winnipeg every day.

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Manitoba will augment it's existing Lifeflight service with air transport for diagnostic tests. ((Manitoba Government photo))

"For patients who need specialized medical tests or procedures not available in their home community, a long drive in an ambulance can be uncomfortable and inconvenient," said Oswald.

Under a new air transport initiative, flights will be scheduled for patients facing ambulance rides of two and half hours or more. Each flight will be able to accommodate up to four patients and will be staffed with two paramedics and two pilots.

There will be no direct charge to patients for the service.

The program officially begins mid-November and will transport patients primarily from the Parkland and Assiniboine health regions.

The province did not put a pricetag on the program. But last year Manitoba spent $10 million to buy 39 new ambulances and to hire more paramedics. As well, the province spent $7.8 million to develop medical dispatch centre in Brandon and allocated about $7 million a year to fund patient transportation.