Liberal MHA calls for release of ambulance review

A government-commissioned review of the provincial ambulance system should immediately be made public, the Opposition health critic says.

Opposition health critic reacts to CBC investigation into 'red alerts'

A government-commissioned review of Newfoundland and Labrador's ambulance system should immediately be made public, the Opposition health critic says.

Andrew Parsons says no one knows when the report — which the province announced last year, and received last month — will be made public.

"That's just not good enough," Parsons told CBC News. "There's no reason that this should be private."

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons says the province should release a report it commissioned on ambulance services in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Parsons was reacting to a CBC News investigation this week into red alerts.

Red alerts occur when there is no Eastern Health ambulance on standby in the metro St. John's area to handle emergency calls.

CBC News obtained records through access to information revealing that there were 286 red alerts in the first seven months of 2013.

"To see how many occasions there have been so far this year where there is actually no ambulances available, it’s troubling, it’s a scary thing," Parsons said.

"And then when you go a bit deeper into it, and read the history behind it, you have to question what’s going on here."

The Liberal MHA said ambulance availability is "an issue of critical public safety."

Ambulance response times affected

CBC News found that there has been no Eastern Health ambulance on standby and ready to answer emergency calls for an average of 26 minutes per day in the St. John’s metro area so far this year.

Eastern Health declined interview requests, but acknowledged in an e-mailed statement that ambulance response times to emergency calls can be affected by red alert situations.

But the health authority stressed that calls are still answered quickly.

The number of red alerts declared by Eastern Health can vary day to day and week to week. (CBC)

"While Eastern Health may be in a red alert status, an ambulance may become available within minutes of a red alert status being called. Each ambulance that becomes available will be dispatched to a waiting call and the red alert status will remain in effect until an ambulance is available for standby," the e-mailed statement noted.

"During a red alert status, calls are continuously being responded to as each ambulance becomes available. The red alert status is terminated when there is an ambulance available for standby."

After a sharp reduction in red alert minutes in 2011, there has since been a steady climb.

Days can go by without any red alerts being declared. But sometimes, there are several in one day.

Many red alerts last just minutes, but the longest recorded in the first seven months of 2013 was more than two hours.

Private ambulances from a company based in Holyrood and Conception Bay South were summoned 19 times between January and July to help handle calls in the St. John’s area.