The union that represents paramedics at Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority is calling for an increase in ambulances and staff to combat the rising number of red alerts.

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Red alerts occur when there is no Eastern Health ambulance on standby and ready to answer emergency calls on the northeast Avalon.

“Paramedics have expressed concerns to their union that they may not be able to respond when needed in emergency situations,” said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE).

“They have informed their union that the current situation is untenable and could lead to not only delayed response times to calls, but a further increase in red alerts.”

Last fall, CBC Investigates reported that red alert status was in effect an average of 26 minutes per day in the St. John’s metro area over the first seven months of 2013.

New statistics released by Eastern Health show a spike in red alert times during December and January.

In December, there was an average of 52 red alert minutes per day; in January, the average was 43 minutes.

“The numbers now are unacceptable, and we are very fearful that, at the end of the day, it could have a very negative effect on somebody’s treatment," Furlong said.

The union leader says paramedics are concerned.

“Of course there are lives at stake," Furlong said. "On any given day paramedics are going out to high emergency, high level emergency situations that have to have immediate response. And they’re telling us right now that they’re in fear that they won’t be able to get to people in time.”

Resources added 3 years ago

The health authority added resources to the system in 2011 — a move that coincided with a sharp decrease in the number of red alert minutes.

Furlong says it’s time to look at similar action again.

"Immediate resources are needed to address the urgent situation in the form of additional units on the road," Furlong said.

Carol Furlong NAPE president CBC

Carol Furlong is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees. (CBC)

"At a minimum, two additional units need to be put into service on a 24/7 basis."

In October, Health Minister Susan Sullivan said it was too early to talk about adding more paramedics or ambulances in the region.

“At this point in time I think that’s premature,” Sullivan said. “I think there are all kinds of other options that we can take a look at first.”

Sullivan was not available for an interview Friday, but her staff issued a statement on her behalf.

"It is never desirable to have a patient waiting when a call for an ambulance is made, however, there can be times when the volume of calls exceeds the number of available ambulances for a short period of time," the emailed statement noted.

While many red alerts last only minutes, others can be more lengthy.

Five separate red alerts between Jan. 1 and Jan. 5 each lasted more than an hour, according to Eastern Health statistics obtained by CBC Investigates.

Eastern Health officials also declined interview requests Friday, but noted senior management met with paramedics earlier in the week to discuss issues of concern, including red alerts.