Politicians in the Northwest Territories say they're worried patients being flown to Edmonton for emergency treatment are not getting to hospital quickly enough because medevac flights are being moved out of the city's central airport.
MLAs grilled Health Minister Michael Miltenberger on Wednesday afternoon about Edmonton's plans to shut down the City Centre Airport, meaning northern medical patients would be flown to the city's international airport instead.
Yellowknife MLAs Bob Bromley and Dave Ramsay argued that having N.W.T. medevac flights land at the international airport, located south of the city, puts patients at risk because of longer transfer times to hospitals downtown.
"Timeliness of patient transfer and treatment is obviously the core concern in this issue, and I'm sure many members here have been told of cases where minutes have made the difference in their personal survival and those of their family members," Bromley said in the legislature.
"In fact, in the last three hours … I've spoken to two individuals who say they would not be here today if the municipal airport had not been available," he added.
Some flights already diverted: Ramsay
Ramsay said the downtown Edmonton runway that handles bad-weather landings has already closed, and 44 medevac flights have already had to land at the international airport and therefore deal with longer drives to hospital.
Ramsay mentioned that a recent report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta said moving medevac flights from Edmonton City Centre Airport to the international airport will put patient safety at risk.
"The report finds that the move would tranform hospital transport times in Edmonton from the shortest in the country into the longest in the country," Ramsay said in the legislature.
The council's report, released on May 5, recommends 18 ways to mitigate the loss of the flights at City Centre Airport, such as equipping ambulances with a device to change traffic signals, and arranging helicopters to transport patients to hospital quickly when traffic is extremely heavy.
Miltenberger said he wants to make the best of Edmonton's decision by pushing for the safety recommendations laid out in the Health Quality Council of Alberta report.
No use turning back the clock, minister says
"I don't think we should be wasting any more of our time on gnashing our teeth and trying to turn back the clock," Miltenberger told CBC News earlier this week.
"The fact is, we have report that's been done … that lays out how we should best move forward."
But Ramsay said it may be only a matter of time before a patient is harmed, if the report's recommendations are not implemented before any other medevac flights are diverted.
"Medevac flights are going to the international airport without any of the recommendations being acted upon," he said.
"The safety of our residents is being jeopardized every time a medevac gets diverted to the international airport."
Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky said last week that medevac flights will not be moved out of City Centre Airport until all safety concerns are addressed.