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Why Ottawa paramedics want a new dispatch system

Ottawa paramedics have been lobbying for a new dispatch system for year. Paramedics say the percentage of life-threatening Code 4 calls they are sent on is too high, and very few of these calls turn out to be "life-threatening."

The province plans to move the city to a new paramedic dispatch system by 2019

Ottawa paramedics load a stretcher into an ambulance. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

For years, Ottawa paramedics have been calling for a new dispatch system that more accurately assesses the severity of the emergencies.

On Tuesday, the provincial government finally answered that call and vows to bring in a new dispatch system by 2019.

Under the current dispatch system, an operator takes a 911 call, asks a series of questions to determine the severity of the patients' condition, and then dispatches the paramedics.  

Code 4 calls are considered threatening to "life or limb." Time is critical, and paramedics race to the scene with lights and sirens.

 According to 2015 numbers provided by the Ottawa Paramedic service, 73 per cent of the calls for ambulances that year were dispatched as a Code 4. 

But once paramedics arrived at the scene and assessed the patients, only a very small percentage of these Code 4s were brought to the hospital as life-threatening cases.

Here is a chart that illustrates the problem Ottawa has been facing.